HARRISBURG - Gov. Corbett unveiled his education reform plan today, calling for vouchers for children in failing schools as well as measures to ensure better teacher and student performance.
"We can't continue down the same path and think we can get a different result," Corbett said in laying out for the first time details of his plan. "We have to think and act smarter."
Speaking at the Lincoln Charter School in York, Corbett said his plan would extend vouchers to students in the bottom five percent of failing schools whose families earn 130 percent or less of the federal poverty rate. For a family of four, that means $29,000 or less, and the voucher could be used for private, public or charter schools.
Corbett's plan would affect about 140 schools in the state, including elementary schools, administration officials said.
The governor would also expand tax credits to businesses that help underwrite scholarship programs. Currently, there is $75 million set aside for such credits, but Corbett said he would work with the legislature to negotiate a higher number.
In addition, the governor said the current system of evaluating teachers is "merely a rubber stamp," and needs to change. He noted that the current system only provides for a "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory" rating, and that in the 2009-2010 school year, 99.2 percent of teachers got a passing grade.
Corbett said he wants to develop a new system that would base teacher evaluations in part on student performance, and use that as a basis for deciding merit pay, tenure and future employment. New ratings would include "distinguished," "proficient," "needs improvement," and "failing."
The governor is also calling for a statewide commission to evaluate and regulate charter schools in Pennsylvania. The commission would have the power to "pull the plug" on ones that are underperforming.
Corbett's plan is bound to face push-back from teachers unions and other groups representing public schools, who believe the move would weaken efforts to provide a quality education to all students.
They note that the governor has already slashed funding for public education in his last budget, and that this would only make it tougher for teachers and students in public schools.
Still, the governor's plan is scaled back compared to a school choice bill that had been discussed in the legislature over the last nine months.
Nonetheless, one of the key champions of that bill, Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Philadelphia), said he will support Corbett's proposal.
"The governor and I continue to engage in conversation about the future of education in Pennsylvania, a clear passion of mine. There has been agreement in some areas, dispute in others, and I expect this will remain true," Williams said in a statement.
"But I also expect and strongly urge my colleagues, in both chambers and from both sides of the aisle, to fairly review and advance these proposed reforms, as they fall in line with our overarching goal of delivering more opportunities for equitable educational outcomes for all our children, regardless of their zip code," Williams added.