Rally for vouchers

— With their school's fu­ture as­sured, St. Hubert stu­dents push for tu­ition aid from the tax­pay­ers.

Rep­res­ent­at­ive Kev­in Boyle speaks to a crowd of nearly 500 girls, stat­ing that it is not fair to crush a child’s dreams of at­tendeing the right school for them due to high tu­ition. He ar­gues that school vouch­ers and ex­pand­ing Edu­ca­tion­al Im­prove­ment Tax Cred­it will help solve this is­sue, Fri­day, June 1, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


The front steps of St. Hubert High School have got­ten quite a workout this year.

Back on Jan. 6, stu­dents sobbed on their way out the door after learn­ing that an Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia blue rib­bon com­mis­sion re­com­men­ded that the school close be­cause of de­clin­ing en­roll­ment and a budget de­fi­cit.

In the days that fol­lowed, the St. Hubert com­munity ral­lied on the steps to raise money to aid an ap­peal of the blue rib­bon com­mis­sion’s find­ings. Some $1.3 mil­lion was col­lec­ted.

And on Feb. 24, pan­de­moni­um broke loose on the steps as the girls cel­eb­rated the news that Arch­bish­op Charles J. Chaput had spared St. Hubert and three oth­er high schools on the chop­ping block be­cause of gen­er­ous pledges from phil­an­throp­ists.

Though the doors at St. Hubert will re­open in Septem­ber for the 72nd year, the girls have an­oth­er battle on their hands. They want the state to pass a bill that would give vouch­ers to par­ents to make tu­ition more af­ford­able at non-pub­lic schools.

“What do we want? School choice. When do we want it? Now,” the girls chanted at dis­missal last Fri­day af­ter­noon.

Sis­ter Mary E. Smith, the school pres­id­ent, and prin­cip­al Re­gina Craig joined staff at the rally on the steps.

Among those in at­tend­ance were Kath­ryn Ott Lov­ell, chair­wo­man of the school’s board of dir­ect­ors; state Rep. Kev­in Boyle; Rita Schwartz, a former St. Hubert teach­er and pres­id­ent of the As­so­ci­ation of Cath­ol­ic Teach­ers Loc­al 1776; of­fi­cials from the arch­diocese; and an aide to state Rep. John Taylor.

Vouch­ers have been pro­posed in Pennsylvania for years but have nev­er be­come law.

In fact, Boyle re­mem­bers be­ing a fourth-grader at St. Helena in 1989 when the school held a rally for vouch­ers.

Gov. Tom Ridge sup­por­ted vouch­ers but couldn’t get the votes in the le­gis­lature to make them law. Vouch­ers wer­en’t an is­sue dur­ing the two terms of Gov. Ed Rendell, who op­posed them. Gov. Tom Corbett cam­paigned on a pro-vouch­ers plat­form, and some move­ment has been made on the is­sue.

The Sen­ate passed a vouch­ers bill last Oc­to­ber by a vote of 27-22. Loc­al Sens. Tina Tartagli­one, Shir­ley Kit­chen and Mike Stack voted against the meas­ure, which has not been con­sidered by the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives.

Sen­ate Bill 1 would have offered vouch­ers to chil­dren at­tend­ing the bot­tom 5 per­cent of poor-per­form­ing pub­lic schools and liv­ing in house­holds with a max­im­um an­nu­al in­come of $29,000. Loc­al schools that would have qual­i­fied were Frank­ford and Fels high schools, Hard­ing Middle School and Frank­lin, Creighton, Car­nell, Ste­arne and H.R. Ed­munds ele­ment­ary schools.

In the second year, vouch­ers would go to low-in­come stu­dents already in private schools.

Fund­ing for the Edu­ca­tion­al Im­prove­ment Tax Cred­it — which gives tax breaks to busi­nesses that donate to schol­ar­ship or­gan­iz­a­tions — would rise an­nu­ally from $75 mil­lion to $125 mil­lion over three years. Those or­gan­iz­a­tions for­ward the money to non-pub­lic schools, which use the funds to of­fer tu­ition as­sist­ance to needy fam­il­ies.

Now, a new bill ap­pears to be quietly gain­ing mo­mentum in the House. Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Mike Vereb of Mont­gomery County and Jim Chris­ti­ana of Beaver County are said to be push­ing a meas­ure that would ex­pand the scope of vouch­ers to chil­dren in the bot­tom 10 per­cent of poor-per­form­ing pub­lic schools and a slid­ing in­come scale that would reach up to $70,000 a year.

An EITC ex­pan­sion would be in­cluded.

The de­tails have not been fi­nal­ized, but vouch­er sup­port­ers are ex­cited.

“This is le­gis­la­tion to en­sure the suc­cess of all fu­ture Bam­bies,” said Lov­ell, a 1992 St. Hubert gradu­ate.

Boyle (D-172nd dist.), a House fresh­man who had ex­pressed op­pos­i­tion to vouch­ers dur­ing his primary cam­paign in 2010, is a con­vert.

“I will be vot­ing yes,” he said of the forth­com­ing bill.

Boyle, who also in­dic­ated he would have voted for Sen­ate Bill 1 had it reached the House, de­scribed the ex­pan­ded bill as be­ing “on the cusp” of pas­sage. He’s one of a small num­ber of Demo­crats in fa­vor of the bill. There is some Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion, and pro­ponents have not got­ten com­mit­ments from the min­im­um 102 mem­bers needed for pas­sage.

Still, sup­port has grown. Some law­makers across the state viewed Sen­ate Bill 1 as a meas­ure that would be­ne­fit only Phil­adelphia.

In his first run two years ago, Boyle’s top theme was neigh­bor­hood pre­ser­va­tion. He be­lieves St. Hubert, Fath­er Judge and Arch­bish­op Ry­an high schools, along with Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary schools, are pil­lars of the com­munity. He views thriv­ing Cath­ol­ic schools as crit­ic­al to the city’s eco­nomy.

Boyle, whose wife teaches Eng­lish at a charter school in Ger­man­town, fa­vors the broad­er in­come lim­its be­cause fam­il­ies in neigh­bor­hoods such as Ta­cony, May­fair and Holmes­burg would qual­i­fy.

A Car­din­al Dougherty High School and La Salle Uni­versity gradu­ate, Boyle wants par­ents to be able to send their kids to a private school if they be­lieve the neigh­bor­hood pub­lic school isn’t up to par. He grew up in Ol­ney.

“The pub­lic schools were not an op­tion,” he said.

Lov­ell urged par­ents to call, e-mail and write let­ters to their le­gis­lat­ors and to sched­ule an ap­point­ment to vis­it them.

In her view, too many pub­lic schools have is­sues with tru­ancy, dro­pouts and low scores on stand­ard­ized read­ing and math tests.

“These schools are fail­ing our chil­dren,” she said.

The St. Hubert stu­dents car­ried signs that read, “Give My Mom a Break” and “Raise EITC,” and sung the alma ma­ter.

Claire Ann Al­minde, a ju­ni­or who’ll serve as stu­dent coun­cil pres­id­ent next year, thanked her par­ents for sac­ri­fi­cing to send her and her two broth­ers to St. Jerome and to a Cath­ol­ic high school. Chris­toph­er Al­minde gradu­ated from Fath­er Judge, and Patrick Al­minde is a fresh­man at the school.

Paul Al­minde is a de­tect­ive in the po­lice de­part­ment’s East Di­vi­sion, and Claire Al­minde is a nurse at St. Chris­toph­er’s Hos­pit­al for Chil­dren. Their daugh­ter wants all chil­dren to have the op­por­tun­ity she has.

“I be­lieve I am who I am be­cause of this school,” she said. ••


You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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