Pennsylvania

What do we want…school choice! When do we want it…now!”

“What do we want…school choice! When do we want it…now!”
Hundreds of students and their parents filed into the state Capitol Rotunda last month for a rally to cheer for Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship Act. SB 1 proposes a significant increase to the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. If passed, the EITC will increase to $100 million making more scholarships available to qualified students. It also proposes vouchers for the poorest students in chronically failing schools. Parents can use the voucher to pay tuition at any school they choose, including a Catholic school if they wish.
It is not hard to see why students and their parents are cheering for this bill. The Opportunity Scholarship Act includes scholarships for both public-to-public and public-to-private school choice. Qualified families could access a number of educational options, giving them the opportunity to choose a school that best meets the needs of their child.
By virtue of their zip code, many families have no choice but to send their child to the school in their neighborhood, even if that school is failing. Most do not have the economic means to relocate to another district or pay tuition somewhere else. Parents in these areas who desire something better for their children are the loudest cheerleaders for SB 1.
The Catholic school community is also cheering the Opportunity Scholarship proposal. Because of constraints on the state budget, the voucher program starts small. In the first year, only low-income students currently attending a failing public school qualify. Eligibility will be expanded in the second and third years. Eventually every low-income student will be eligible. The increase in the EITC program will grant more scholarships to qualified families who are not included in the voucher program right away.
Not every qualified student will choose a Catholic school, but it is likely that many will. Catholic educators can already attest how the EITC has helped Catholic schools; SB 1 will allow even more families a chance to get a Catholic education. More students in our classrooms is good news for our schools; more students will help keep Catholic schools open.
Citizens who care about Pennsylvania’s future are cheering, too. Not everyone is the parent of a school-aged child but most of us are taxpayers. School choice saves tax dollars because non-public schools often provide an excellent education for a fraction of the cost of public schools. Every child in Pennsylvania is entitled to an education. If we can redirect a portion of the state subsidy to provide the same child an education in a less costly program, isn’t it worth considering? Nonpublic schools should be included, not excluded, from the plan to create a more effective educational system.
A good education helps children grow up to be good citizens. Growing as many good citizens as we can will help ensure a better and brighter future for all of us.
Add your voice to the school choice cheerleading squad. Visit, call, write or e-mail your state legislators and ask them to support the Opportunity Scholarship Act – SB 1. Join the
Advocates for Catholic Education in PA to receive the latest news and action alerts on Catholic education issues. Learn more at www.pacatholic.org/current-issues/school-choice
February 2011 PCC Column by A.B. Hill, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.

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Advocates for School Choice PA

ACTION ALERT:
National School Choice Week is January 23-29, 2011. We anticipate that just in time for the celebration, school choice legislation will be introduced in Pennsylvania. To mark the occasion a pro-school choice group called Students First has scheduled a rally at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on January 25, 2011, at 2:00 pm.
If you are interested in attending, more details will be available at
http://www.studentsfirstpac.org/ or call Students First at 717.340.6030. If you can come to Harrisburg on January 25, PCC has a new tool online to help groups plan their trips to the Capitol. It includes details about visiting your legislators, parking buses, eating lunch and finding your way around the Capitol Complex. Explore what it has to offer at http://pcc.lobbytracpa.com/home/.
If you cannot attend the rally that day, you can still voice your support for school choice. Watch for future action alerts from ACE-PA in the coming weeks. We will keep you posted as this “hot topic” progresses. Visits in the home district, phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mails still count.
The PCC and the Bishops of Pennsylvania know the sacrifices that families endure for Catholic education.  With that in mind we are lobbying for school choice legislation that will allow more parents to choose nonpublic school and will assist parents who already send their children to nonpublic schools.  In addition, we will seek to safeguard the Catholic identity of our schools and make sure the boundary between Church and state remain intact.
2011 is shaping up to be a good year for the school choice movement, but we will need your help to be successful. The future of Catholic education in Pennsylvania depends on all of us.  If you have any suggestions on improving ACE-PA or increasing our membership, please contact me at
smcaleer@pacatholic.org .

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2011-2012 Pennsylvania General Assembly sworn in

The recently elected members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly were sworn into office today marking the beginning of the 2011-2012 Legislative Session.
Senator Joseph Scarnati was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Representative Samuel H. Smith was officially sworn in as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Do you know who represents you? Use our elected
official look up tool to find out.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) will be pursuing many different issues in this new legislative session.  Would you like to receive news, information and action alerts about the issues you care about as they develop here in Harrisburg? Become a member of the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network. Follow the instructions on the
Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy network page.
Join us. Let the Catholic voice be heard. Make a difference.

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How a Bill Becomes a Law

For a bill to become a law in Pennsylvania, it must  pass through a political process that is more challenging than merely following the legislative procedures. PCC’s Communications Director, Amy Hill, explains how a bill really becomes a law in this audio clip.

PCC-Dec-2010
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News for Advocates for Catholic Education

News for Advocates for Catholic Education in Pennsylvania November 4, 2010

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End of Session Review

These are among top issues tracked by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) in the 2009-2010 legislative session. What happened and where do we go from here?
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Governor Rendell signs Adoption Bill

New procedures for voluntary open adoption agreements where the prospective adoptive parent can enter into a voluntary agreement with the birth relative of a child to permit continued contact were established this week when Governor Ed Rendell signed SB 1360 into law.
The measure also streamlines the procedure for accessing adoption records and directs DPW to establish a statewide confidential registry of medical and social history for all Pennsylvania adoptions.
The
Pennsylvania Catholic Conference supported this revision to the Adoption Act. It significantly improves services for those involved in the adoption process. The new law has two key components. First, it recognizes and establishes procedures for voluntary open adoption agreements, whereby a prospective adoptive parent can enter into a voluntary agreement with a birth relative of a child to permit continuing contact between the child and a birth relative.
Many Catholic Charities and Social Services agencies in Pennsylvania offer adoption services.

St. Thomas More: Patron of Politicians

The Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops have issued a joint statement to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio) of Pope John Paul II proclaiming St. Thomas More as the patron of statesmen, politicians and lawyers – October 31, 2010.
Read the Bishops’ statement online or download a printer friendly version.

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General Election Resources

As part of an effort to educate citizens about candidates and their positions on issues important to Catholic voters, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) sent a questionnaire to candidates for statewide office to give them the opportunity to make their positions known on key issues. All four statewide candidates (U.S. Senator and PA Governor) also participated in interviews about their views with PCC staff. The election resources posted here are for information purposes only; the PCC does not endorse candidates for political office.
CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRES – 2010 General Election
U.S. Senator
PA Governor
CANDIDATE INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS
VOTER GUIDE BULLETIN INSERT (2 pages)
Viewpoint newsletter – Fall 2010 issue

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Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania issue statement on health care reform

HARRISBURG (October 13) - Health care reform was discussed at a meeting of Pennsylvania’s Catholic Bishops on October 6, 2009.  Together, they issue the following statement:
 
Our Catholic moral tradition teaches that every human being, from the moment of conception to natural death, has an innate dignity that entitles him or her to certain rights and protections. Included among these is the right to life and to have access to health care, which is essential to preserving human life and promoting human dignity. As the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania, we must frankly express our concerns that the health care reform proposals currently under review by the U.S. Congress do not yet guarantee these fundamental rights.
 
True health care reform must maintain longstanding public policies which restrict funding for abortion and respect the consciences of health care providers.   The cost structures of the resulting plan must not impose excessive financial burdens on low and moderate-income individuals and families.  Measures must be in place to safeguard the health of all of society, including the poor, the elderly, and immigrants.  Legal immigrants and their family members must be allowed timely access to comprehensive and affordable health care coverage and an adequate safety net must be maintained for those who remain uncovered.
 
The Catholic community of Pennsylvania can be a strong and reliable partner in advancing health care reform; but as faith leaders, we cannot and will not support or urge the Catholic faithful to support reform that violates the Church’s long held principles on life and dignity.  We will work tirelessly to improve the legislation to reflect these essential priorities.
 
Health care is not just another issue for the Church or for a healthy society. It is a fundamental issue. Health care is a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry.  Every year, Pennsylvania’s Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies provide quality health care to millions.  The Church itself is a major purchaser of health insurance for thousands of employees in our many agencies and institutions.  In some cases, the Church is self-insured.  The Catholic Church in Pennsylvania brings both strong convictions and everyday experience to the issue of health care reform.
 
This debate presents our country with a unique opportunity to improve the health care system for all, especially those who lack affordable coverage and decent care. We believe that health care reform legislation can be drafted to truly protect human life and dignity.
 
Catholics have been leading proponents of health care reform for many years in America.  If a final health care reform bill does not have respect for life at all stages of development, respect for consciences, affordability and inclusion of all of society, the Bishops will be forced to oppose it. Therefore, we pray that critical shortcomings in the current proposals will be remedied.
 
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) is the public affairs arm of the Catholic Bishops and their dioceses in Pennsylvania.  More information about the Bishops’ position on health care reform and other issues is available at www.pacatholic.org.