Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is making the case this week for his education agenda, one that includes core conservative ideas—namely, the promotion of vouchers—as well as concepts that have drawn bipartisan support in other states, such as charter expansion and new appoaches to evaluating teachers.
Corbett, a first-term Republican elected last year, proposes the creation of "Opportunity Scholarships," private-school vouchers available to students in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools across the state.
Participating students would have to take tests measuring their academic achievement. That's an idea that sometimes has proven controversial among private-school choice supporters, but Corbett says the exams, which would be administered by the state, would ensure "accountability."
Republicans in several states have won approval of new private-school choice plans this year, over the objections of unions and other opponents. Some of those measures are now being challenged in court. The chances of Corbett's plans taking hold are unclear; a GOP-backed voucher plan offered earlier this year in his state did not gain legislative traction.
The governor also wants to expand an existing tax credit program that provides support for students' private school costs, as well as supplemental education services in public schools.
Corbett's plans would also create a new statewide entity to license and oversee charter schools, and make it easier to convert facilities into charters. He also vows to increase academic and financial oversight of charters.
The governor's proposed teacher-evaluation system, meanwhile, would build upon an existing pilot evaluation system. The new model would judge teacher effectiveness based on student learning gains and classroom observations, and create different rating systems for teachers, principals, and education specialists. Those ratings would serve as the basis for decisions about pay, tenure, and dismissal.
"We are set to start work on one of the most important jobs state government can do,'' Corbett said this week, in explaining his plan. The goal is "rearrange' the state's education priorities, he said: "It needs to be: child, parent, teacher... and just in that order."
States across the country this year approved a wave of new teacher-evaluation measures, following up on the initial round of laws and policies approved by states in the run-up to the Race to the Top competition.
Like governors in other states, Corbett has come under criticism for not providing more money to schools, a decision that local district officials say has resulted in significant layoffs and the loss of programs and services. Whether his plans can win the support of local school officials, and lawmakers, remains to be seen.
Photo: Corbett calls on a student at Lincoln Charter School, in York, Pa., where he announced details of his charter plan. Marc Levy/AP