With legislative leaders in Harrisburg behind a closed-door somewhere squabbling over budget line-items, the House Education Committee was expected to keep some of the rank-and-filers busy this morning with a hearing on school vouchers.
Capitol Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello reports that instead, they focused on arguing over whether it was a properly scheduled meeting:
Education experts converged in Harrisburg this morning for a hastily convened public hearing on efforts to expand school choice, but their remarks were not entered into the record and only three lawmakers stuck around to hear them.
That's because Education Committee Democrats complained that Republicans erred when they gave school-choice opponents only a day's notice of the hearing instead of the five required under House rules.
Chairman Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, conceded the Democrats' point and adjourned the hearing.
"Not to do the right thing ... would show that we are not people of integrity," Mr. Clymer said after consulting with caucus attorneys. "We would have the public lose confidence in us and we don't want to be in that position."
Instead, he invited testifiers to speak informally to committee members who chose to stay. Only three, all Republicans, did.
Mr. Clymer had scheduled the hearing in order to vet a pair of bills providing for school vouchers and charter-school reform. A second hearing had been listed on the Legislature's online committee calendar for tomorrow morning, and that hearing also was cancelled.
With nine days left until lawmakers' scheduled summer adjournment, time is running out to enact a voucher bill, which has been a priority for Gov. Tom Corbett and other Republicans.
Public hearings are not required, but Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, has promised to hold them before votes on education reform measures.
This morning's hearing was expected to focus on a newer voucher proposal, as well as a measure from Rep. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, on charter schools. Sponsored by Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, the voucher bill would private-school or out-of-district tuition assistance to low-income students and those who live in the attendance boundaries of the lowest performing public schools.
Middle-class families, meanwhile, could get tuition assistance through an expansion of the Education Improvement Tax Credit program. That program provides businesses up to 90 percent credit for contributions to eligible non-profit organizations that distribute scholarships.