State Rep. Joe D’Orsie (R-York) held a press conference Monday introducing a bill to establish Student Freedom Accounts.
HB 1904 would allow parents to use their tax dollars to send their children to the school that best suits the child’s educational needs.
“It’s time to think outside the box,” said D’Orsie. “It’s time to follow the example of other states like Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and our neighbors to the west, Ohio and West Virginia. It’s time to shift our focus from a system that hasn’t served us well to the very students whose success will propel the future of our state. It’s time to deliver something that seven out of 10 Pennsylvanians want, from every political affiliation. It’s time for educational choice here and now. It’s time to deliver the best possible gift to our kids: the freedom to excel.”
The Student Freedom Account Act would tie state education funding to students rather than systems by allowing the state portion of district education funding to follow the student to their school of choice, according to House Republicans supporting the bill. The funds, which would be housed in individualized Student Freedom Accounts, would be used by students to attend the school of their choice, such as a parochial or charter school.
“The momentum around options for students has never been greater, which is why we stand here to provide students from across our state with much-needed options,” D’Orsie said.
Advocates for education choice note public school enrollment is down about six percent over the past decade, while per-pupil spending has risen to $21,300 per child. At the same time, test scores have languished.
“Every day, thousands of kids across Pennsylvania are deprived of educational opportunity because of state-mandated, union-backed, and ZIP code-based education discrimination,” said Matt Brouillette, Commonwealth Partners President and CEO. “It’s past time to rescue children from failing and violent schools, and we applaud Rep. D’Orsie and all the lawmakers who are fighting to free kids from union-controlled systems that set them up for failure and finally give kids a shot at an excellent education.”
One looming obstacle is a divided Pennsylvania legislature, with Democrats controlling the House and the Senate in GOP hands. Another obstacle is Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), who portrayed himself as an ally of education choice but vetoed the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success Scholarship Program (PASS) in August.
PASS would have expanded the state’s school choice offerings, which currently include the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit and Education Improvement Tax Credit. Shapiro claimed at the time he wanted to “work with both chambers as we discuss additional programs to help our children, including PASS,” and choice supporters want to hold him to his word.
‘It was Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro who said, ‘Parents need to have the opportunity to put their children into the best place for them to succeed.’ Parents and students need more opportunities, not less. If we want more children to succeed, we need to position more parents to have access to new opportunities through efforts like Rep. D’Orsie’s Student Freedom Account Act, HB 1904,” said Dan Bartkowiak, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) did not respond to a request for comment on D’Orsie’s bill, which is in the education committee.
Former Rep. Andrew Lewis (R-Dauphin), who authored a universal school choice bill in 2021, spoke at the press conference.
“It saddens me, and frankly, it’s infuriating that there are politicians in this building who preach educational equality, but they would vote to lock families in failed public schools while they send their own kids to exclusive private schools,” said Lewis. “It’s elitism. It’s morally reprehensible. It’s hypocrisy. And It’s wrong. I don’t know how they look themselves in the mirror. We have to reverse this mentality of denying opportunity to the many while embracing choice to the few who can afford it. We need to bring that opportunity to every kid in Pennsylvania.”