Pennsylvania Capitol

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG – A bill that would allow parents to give their kids a do-over extra year of school to make up for the 2020-21 year’s disruptive pandemic-related closings and operating changes has begun to move in the state House.

The bill has already passed in the state Senate.

The House Education Committee on Wednesday voted 24-1 in favor of the bill, even though several Democrats expressed reservations about its provisions.

State Rep. Joseph Ciresi, D-Montgomery, said that if the state doesn’t provide schools with more money to cover the cost, the legislation would be an “unfunded mandate” that would create additional burdens.

The legislation was approved by the state Senate by a 48-0 vote on May 12. It now awaits a vote before the full House, which doesn’t return to session until June 7 as lawmakers head down the final stretch toward passing the state budget, due by June 30.

State Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer, the Democratic chair of the Education Committee, said that, while he was voting for the bill, he would have rather seen a more limited bill focused on making the extra year available to students with disabilities.

“My preference would have been more focused on special education, especially those who are going to age out of the system,” Longietti said. “That’s a legitimate concern.”

Longietti said that, otherwise, “it’s unclear” what basis would be used to determine when students and their parents would be choosing to take advantage of the do-over.

State Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, who’d authored similar legislation, said that students wouldn’t gain an extra year of sports due to the bill. He said the measure is intended to provide balance in that, under current law, school district officials have the sole authority to determine when a student is ready to advance a grade or not, even though many students spent large chunks of the 2020-21 school year studying at home.

Topper said there’s little reason to believe that families will take advantage of the option unless they have serious concerns about whether students are academically and socially prepared to advance a grade.

“They know if their student is not ready,” he said. “Before it was just the school district that could say that students will advance, but some of these schools have not even seen the students.”

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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