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PRINTER'S NO. 4135
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF PENNSYLVANIA
HOUSE BILL
No.
2696
Session of
2020
INTRODUCED BY OWLETT, BURGOS, TOPPER, ROTHMAN, ZIMMERMAN,
BERNSTINE, MENTZER, GLEIM AND TOOHIL, JULY 14, 2020
REFERRED TO COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, JULY 14, 2020
AN ACT
Amending the act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), entitled "An
act relating to the public school system, including certain
provisions applicable as well to private and parochial
schools; amending, revising, consolidating and changing the
laws relating thereto," establishing the Back on Track
Education Scholarship Account Program; and imposing duties on
the Department of Education and the State Treasurer.
The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
hereby enacts as follows:
Section 1. The act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known
as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding an
article to read:
ARTICLE XXVI-L
BACK ON TRACK EDUCATION SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT PROGRAM
Section 2601-L. Scope.
This article relates to the Back on Track Education
Scholarship Account Program.
Section 2602-L. Definitions.
The following words and phrases when used in this article
shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the
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context clearly indicates otherwise:
"Account." A spending account established and administered
by the State Treasurer and controlled by a parent for a school-
age child with money that may be spent on a qualified education
expense as provided for under section 2605-L.
"Applicant." A parent of a school-age child who applies for
an account under section 2603-L(b) on behalf of the school-age
child.
"Department." The Department of Education of the
Commonwealth.
"Eligible student." A school-age child whose parent has
entered into an agreement under section 2603-L(e) on behalf of
the school-age child.
"Institution of higher education." As defined under section
118(c).
"Nonpublic school." A school, other than a public school,
located in this Commonwealth where a Commonwealth resident may
legally fulfill the compulsory attendance requirements of this
act that complies with section 1521 and meets the applicable
requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Public
Law 88-352, 78 Stat. 241).
"Parent." An individual who:
(1) is a resident of this Commonwealth; and
(2) either:
(i) has legal custody or guardianship of a student;
or
(ii) keeps in the individual's home a student and
supports the student gratis as if the student were a
lineal descendant of the individual.
"Participating entity."
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(1) Any of the following where a school-age child
receives instruction:
(i) A public or nonpublic school for kindergarten
through grade 12, or a combination of grades.
(ii) An institution of higher education.
(iii) A distance learning program that is not
offered by a public school or the department.
(iv) A tutor who is a teacher licensed in any state,
has taught at an eligible postsecondary institution and
is a subject matter expert or a tutor or tutoring agency
otherwise approved by the department.
(2) The term does not include a parent of a school-age
child to the extent that the parent provides educational
services directly to the school-age child.
"Program." The Back on Track Education Scholarship Account
Program established under section 2603-L(a).
"Public school." A school district, charter school, cyber
charter school, regional charter school, intermediate unit or
area vocational-technical school.
"Resident school district." The school district in which a
school-age child resides.
"School-age child." A child who is enrolled in kindergarten
through grade 12 and resides in this Commonwealth.
"Student with a disability." As defined in 22 Pa. Code §
14.101 (relating to definitions).
Section 2603-L. Back on Track Education Scholarship Account
Program.
(a) Establishment.--The Back on Track Education Scholarship
Account Program is established in the department.
(b) Individuals who may apply.--A parent may apply for an
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account for a school-age child.
(c) Application period and eligibility.--In awarding money
from accounts, the department shall give the following
preference:
(1) A school-age child whose family income is at or
below 185% of the Federal poverty level receives priority
application approval beginning on the effective date of this
section until November 16, 2020.
(2) A school-age child may apply to the program
beginning on November 16, 2020.
(3) An account shall be awarded to approved applicants
on a first-come, first-served basis provided that money
remains available.
(4) The department may not accept applications received
after December 6, 2020.
(d) Application form.--The department shall develop a form
for the application which may not exceed one page that measures
8.5 inches by 11 inches and may be filled out and submitted
through the department's publicly accessible Internet website.
(e) Review and approval.--
(1) The department shall review a timely submitted
application to determine if the applicant meets the
requirements under subsection (c). If the requirements have
been met, the department shall approve the application and
enter into an agreement with the applicant.
(2) The agreement shall provide that:
(i) The parent will receive a grant on behalf of the
school-age child in the form of money deposited under
section 2604-L in the account.
(ii) The money in the account may be expended only
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as authorized under this article.
(f) Account.-- If an agreement is entered into under
subsection (e), an account shall be established in the State
Treasury. The account shall be administered by the State
Treasurer under this article.
(g) Term of agreement.--Except as otherwise provided under
this article, an agreement entered into under subsection (e)
shall be valid for up to two years following high school
graduation of the school-age child.
(h) Termination.--
(1) Notwithstanding subsection (i), an agreement entered
into under subsection (e) may be terminated early in
accordance with this section.
(2) If an agreement is terminated early by the parent or
department, all available money in the account shall revert
to the State Treasury and be used in the resident school
district.
(i) Automatic termination.--
(1) An agreement entered into under subsection (e) shall
terminate automatically if the school-age child no longer
resides in this Commonwealth.
(2) The parent shall notify the department if the child
no longer resides in this Commonwealth within 15 days of the
change of residence. After the child's parent has notified
the department, money remaining in the account shall revert
to the State Treasury and be used in the resident school
district prior to the change of residence.
(j) Number.--A parent may enter into separate agreements
under subsection (e) for each school-age child of the parent.
Not more than one account may be established for a school-age
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child.
(k) Explanation.--After entering into an agreement under
subsection (e), the department shall provide the parent with a
written explanation of the authorized uses of the money in the
account and the responsibilities of the parent, the department
and the State Treasurer under the agreement and this article.
(l) Application notification.--The department shall notify
parents and school districts of approved applications within 15
days of receiving the timely filed applications.
Section 2604-L. Amount.
(a) General rule.--If a parent of a school-age child enters
into an agreement under section 2603-L with the department for a
school year, the Secretary of Education shall deposit a $1,000
grant for that school year in the account of the eligible
student.
(b) Disposition.--
(1) Money remaining in an account at the end of a school
year may be carried forward to future school years if the
eligible student remains engaged with a participating entity.
(2) Subject to paragraph (3), money remaining in an
account when an agreement entered into under section 2603-
L(d) is terminated shall revert to the resident school
district.
(3) Money remaining in an account after the school-age
child graduates from high school may be used for qualified
education expenses under section 2605-L for up to two years
after the date of high school graduation of the eligible
student. After the two-year time period under this paragraph
has expired, money remaining in the account shall revert to
the General Fund.
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Section 2605-L. Qualified education expenses.
(a) General rule.--Money deposited in an account may be used
to pay for any of the following expenses incurred by or
associated with the eligible student:
(1) Tuition and fees charged by a participating entity.
(2) Textbooks or uniforms required by a participating
entity.
(3) Fees for tutoring or other teaching services
provided by a participating entity.
(4) Fees for a nationally norm-referenced test, advanced
placement or similar examination or standardized examination
required for admission to an institution of higher education
and career and technical education examination fees.
(5) Fees for purchasing curriculum or instructional
materials required to administer curriculum.
(6) If the eligible student is a student with a
disability, fees for special instruction or special services
provided to the eligible student, including, but not limited
to, occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapies.
(7) Computer hardware and computer software associated
with instruction or any of the qualifying expenses described
in this subsection.
(8) Fees for counseling services related to academic
achievement or social and emotional development.
(9) Other valid educational expenses approved by the
department.
(b) Prohibitions.--A participating entity that receives a
payment for qualified education expenses authorized under
subsection (a) may not:
(1) Refund a portion of the payment directly to the
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parent who made the payment.
(2) Rebate or otherwise directly share a portion of the
payment with the parent who made the payment.
(c) Refund.--A participating entity shall deposit a refund
for an item that is being returned or an item or service that
has not been provided directly to the account of the eligible
student from which payment for the item or service was made.
(d) Payment system.--
(1) The State Treasurer shall develop a system that
enables a parent to pay for services provided by
participating entities under the program by electronic money
transfer, including electronic payment systems or other means
of electronic payment that the State Treasurer determines to
be commercially viable and cost effective.
(2) The State Treasurer may contract with a private
entity to develop the payment system.
(3) The State Treasurer may not adopt a system that
requires a parent to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket
expenses.
(e) Source and amount of payment.--
(1) An account shall be funded by the COVID-19 Response
Restricted Account.
(2) Total money to be transferred from the COVID-19
Response Restricted Account to fund accounts shall not exceed
$500,000,000.
(3) An individual may not deposit personal money into or
otherwise make gifts or contributions of private money to an
account.
(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed to
prohibit a parent or school-age child from paying for
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qualified education expenses from a source other than the
account.
Section 2606-L. Audits.
(a) Power to conduct.--The State Treasurer may provide for
audits of an account as the State Treasurer determines
necessary.
(b) Penalties.--If the State Treasurer determines that money
in an account has been expended for an expense other than a
qualified education expense under section 2605-L(a), the State
Treasurer may:
(1) Freeze or dissolve the account, subject to
regulations adopted by the State Treasurer providing for
notice to the parent of the action and opportunity to respond
to the notice.
(2) Refer the matter to the Attorney General or district
attorney of the county in which the parent resides for
investigation and criminal prosecution, if appropriate.
(3) Impose a civil penalty on the parent equal to 100%
of the amount in the account prior to the unauthorized use.
(4) Disqualify the parent from future participation in
the program.
Section 2607-L. Accountability standards for a participating
entity.
(a) General rule.--A participating entity shall:
(1) Comply with all health and safety laws or codes that
apply to the participating entity.
(2) Hold a valid occupancy permit if required by the
municipality in which the participating entity is located.
(3) Comply with the nondiscrimination policies stated in
section 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (relating to equal rights under the
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law) and with section 1521.
(4) Comply with the provisions of sections 111 and
111.1.
(b) Financial accountability standards.--A participating
entity shall provide parents of eligible students with a receipt
for all qualifying expenses incurred by the participating
entity.
(c) Academic accountability standards.--
(1) A parent of an eligible student shall notify the
department of the eligible student's graduation from high
school.
(2) The department shall comply with all student privacy
laws, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
of 1974 (Public Law 90-247, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g).
(d) Participating entity autonomy.--
(1) A participating entity shall be autonomous and may
not be an agent of the department or the Commonwealth.
(2) The department or any other State agency may not
regulate the educational program of a participating entity
that accepts money from an account.
(3) The establishment of the program may not be
construed to expand the regulatory authority of the State,
the officers of the State or any school district to impose
any additional regulation of a participating entity beyond
those necessary to enforce the requirements of the program.
Section 2608-L. Bar of certain participating entities.
(a) General rule.--The department may bar a participating
entity from further participation in the program if the
department establishes that the participating entity has:
(1) routinely failed to comply with the accountability
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standards established in section 2607-L; or
(2) failed to provide an eligible student with the
educational services funded by the account of the eligible
student.
(b) Notice.--If the department bars a participating entity
from further participation in the program, the department shall
post the decision on the department's publicly accessible
Internet website.
(c) Appeal.--A participating entity may appeal the
department's decision under this section.
Section 2609-L. Duties of resident school districts.
A resident school district shall notify eligible students and
their parents about the program and provide information about
participating entities.
Section 2610-L. Legal proceedings.
(a) Liability.--No liability shall arise on the part of the
department, the Commonwealth or a public school or school
district based on the award or use of an account under this
article.
(b) Challenges.--
(1) If any part of this article is challenged in a State
court as violating the Constitution of the United States,
parents of eligible students and students who previously had
an account shall be permitted to intervene as of right in the
lawsuit for the purposes of defending the program's
constitutionality.
(2) For the purposes of judicial administration, a court
may require that parents file a joint brief but may not
require parents to join a brief filed on behalf of a named
State defendant.
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(c) Severability.-- If any provision of this article or the
application thereof to any person or circumstance is held
invalid, the invalidity shall not affect other provisions or
applications of this article which can be given effect without
the invalid provision or application. The provisions of this
article are declared to be severable.
Section 2611-L. Listing of participating entities.
The department shall annually post on the department's
publicly accessible Internet website a listing of all
participating entities.
Section 2612-L. Guidelines.
The State Treasurer, in consultation with the department,
shall develop guidelines as necessary for the administration of
this article within 10 days of the effective date of this
section.
Section 2. This act shall take effect immediately.
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