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Alternative-school bill overwhelmingly passes Pa. House

February 14, 2000|By DON AINES

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A bill that would make parents of expelled students pay for alternative education programs passed overwhelmingly Monday in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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House Bill 1576 passed by a vote of 186 to 9, said its sponsor, state Rep. Allan Egolf, R-Franklin. He said the bill's next stop likely will be the Senate Education Committee.

"I'm hoping I can get a couple of senators from our area to support it," Egolf said.

"The responsibility is on the parents to find the alternative education, but that has to be approved by the school board," Egolf said. Under existing state law, the school district pays for alternative education for students expelled from public school.

Egolf said alternatives include private schools, tutoring, alternative schools or homebound schooling, in which a teacher goes to the student's house.

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Those alternatives can be expensive. Manito Inc., an alternative school near Greencastle, Pa., that accepts expelled students, charges $66 a day, Executive Director Robert Whitmore said earlier this month. For a 180-day school year, parents of an expelled student could pay almost $12,000.

The amended bill takes into account parents who cannot pay that kind of money to educate an expelled son or daughter, Egolf said.

Parents could first go to the administration to make the case that they are unable to pay for alternative education.

If the administration does not agree, the parents could ask for a hearing before the school board. Egolf said. The final step would be a court hearing. The bill does not require parents to pay court costs, just the cost of alternative education, Egolf said.

The bill also takes into account students expelled from private schools, Egolf said. The law now allows those students to attend public school.

Egolf said that will remain the case unless the student committed an offense of such magnitude that it would have resulted in expulsion from public school. A public school would not, for instance, be able to deny enrollment to a private school student expelled "for refusing to attend Bible class," Egolf said.

The bill does not change the legal process school districts must follow to expel a student, Egolf said.

Chambersburg and Waynesboro, the largest of the six school districts in Franklin County, expelled seven students in the 1998-99 school year, according to district officials.

Most were related to serious offenses involving weapons and drugs.

Egolf conceded that the financial relief for state taxpayers was not his primary concern in sponsoring the bill.

"This is to teach the students there are consequences for their actions ... and to get the parents involved in their kids' education," he said.

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