Pennsylvania Legislators Boost School Choice for Students in Worst Schools

Published July 11, 2012

Most children attending Pennsylvania’s worst-performing 15 percent of public schools can now transfer to a public or private school their families choose, thanks to a new law Gov. Tom Corbett signed June 30.

The new tax-credit scholarship builds on the state’s existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which has been in place since 2001. Like the EITC, the new program allows businesses tax credits for donating to nonprofits that in turn offer eligible students scholarships.

“The schools [the expansion] is targeted at are failing the students and everybody knows that,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Speaker Sam Smith.

Reaches Middle-Class Homes
The governor also signed a $25 million increase in tax credits for the existing EITC, raising its cap from $75 million to $100 million annually. Miskin said most Pennsylvania legislators strongly support public schools but don’t believe the EITC threatens them, since it doesn’t take funding away.

The new program, dubbed EITC 2.0, is capped at $50 million in tax credits each year. The scholarships will be worth up to $8,500 for most eligible children and up to $15,000 for special-needs students. For 2012-2013, eligibility is limited to students from households that make up to $60,000 plus $12,000 for each additional dependent. 

In 2013 the income threshold will increase to $75,000 plus $15,000 per dependent. Students in low-income households will receive preference, as will those in low-performing school districts.

Escape from Violent Schools
In addition to helping students escape poorly performing schools, the new program will give students an escape from these schools’ high levels of violence. The lowest-performing 5 percent of Pennsylvania schools experienced one act of violent crime every 17 minutes, according to a recent report from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation.

“When the Three R’s have turned from reading, writing, and arithmetic into robberies, rapes, and riots, children’s cries for help could not go further ignored,” said Jay Ostrich, the foundation’s public policy director. 

The state budget Corbett approved established additional education reforms, including a new teacher evaluation system that breaks teacher ratings into four categories and a plan to improve financially failing school districts.

“While we salute lawmakers for passing legislation that will help thousands of Pennsylvania families have a choice to escape violent and failing public schools, there is more work to be done to extend these opportunities to more families,” Ostrich said. 


Image by Penn State Live.