Local Voucher Program on Hold

Published October 1, 1998

The voucher program offered as a model by Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua is the local voucher measure adopted in April by the school board in Pennsylvania’s Southeast Delco School District, which gives parents vouchers of different dollar amounts depending upon the grade level of the student. Parents who choose to send their child to a private or religious school receive $250 for a child in kindergarten, $500 for a child in grades one through eight, and $1,000 for high school students.

The Southeast Delco plan has been challenged in court in a lawsuit supported by the teachers’ union, People for the American Way, and the American Civil Liberties Union. (See “Penn. Teachers Union Attacks Choice Plan,” School Reform News, May 1998.) The suit charges that the voucher plan’s transfer of tax dollars to religious schools is unconstitutional and, furthermore, that the local school board does not have the authority to use tax dollars for vouchers.

The Southeast Delco school board voted in June to set aside $1.2 million for vouchers in next year’s budget, but later decided to delay implementation of the plan until the legal issues were resolved. The pending lawsuit was filed not only against the school board itself, but also its individual members, who risk having to pay the $1.2 million out of their own pockets.

Board member John C. Summers nevertheless supported distributing the vouchers before the legal issues were settled.

“We have already gone on record saying we are going to do this,” Summers told the Philadelphia Inquirer, adding that he wanted to keep his bargain with the people. “Somebody’s got to rock the boat and make waves and take the initiative that makes the change,” he said.