House supporters of "school choice," led by Republican Stephen Freind of Delaware County and Democrat Gerard Kosinski of Philadelphia, say there are enough House votes to pass the bill.
But House Democratic leadership spokesman Timothy Potts said late yesterday, "I just don't know. It could get 80 votes. It could get 110."
To pass in the House, if all members vote, it needs 102 votes.
A Dec. 10 House vote is planned. Gov. Casey says he hasn't made up his mind on the issue.
Although Philadelphia, with the state's largest non-public school population, would be greatly affected by the measure, Philadelphia senators yesterday split on the issue: Four voted against it, three voted for it.
The Catholic church, whose schools gain greatly if the bill is enacted, lobbied hard for passage. Lawmakers estimated 60,000 letters from the southeastern Pennsylvania counties served by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
There were also reports of telephone calls to senators from Catholic bishops and Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
One senator said a lobbying call was placed directly to the Senate floor.
Paul Henkels, co-chairman of the school choice advocacy group REACH, The Road To Educational Achievement Through Choice, called the bill's passage "a historic first step to reversing the steady and tragic decline in education in the United States since World War II."
But no one said exactly how the bill's estimated $300 million-a-year pricetag would be met.
In fact, the cost issue drove some of the hardest debate.
"This is a vote for higher taxes," said Sen. David Brightbill, R-Lebanon County. "We can't afford it. Those words are absolutely foreign to state government, but we can't afford it."
Supporters say it offers parents a chance to get the best possible education. Opponents say it could kill public schools.
Sen. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia, an opponent, called the bill "a sham." She said it's designed "intentionally to mislead the public." She called it nothing more than "a quick fix to private and parochial schools."
Some Democrats privately said the measure is to help Salvatore win re- election next year.
But after the vote, Salvatore said, "Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an important day, an historical day for the parents and children of Pennsylvania."
Philadelphia senators voting for the bill were Democrats Vincent Fumo and Frank Lynch and Republican Salvatore. Voting against it were Democrats Chaka Fattah, Roxanne Jones, Hardy Williams and Schwartz.