PA: New Corporate Tax Break Adds School Choice Options

It wasn’t the comprehensive school choice program that advocates were hoping for, but a new corporate tax credit for companies donating money for public school students to use towards private school tuition is lauded as a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania. By succeeding in having the provision included in the compromise version of the state budget bill, Governor Tom Corbett delivered on the campaign promise to give those enrolled in failing school an additional academic option. The $30 million in tax breaks was included as the negotiations over the Education Improvement Tax Credit program were almost concluded.

Only students in the lowest-performing schools in the state will be eligible to receive the newly-funded scholarships. More than 30% of those scholarships will likely go to kids from Philadelphia, which is home to some of the worst-rated public schools in PA. Some of the expected beneficiaries of the new programs will be the city’s Catholic schools, with the Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput welcoming the inclusion of the new program in a statement following its announcement.

Chaput called it:

… “a strong first step toward what we need to help secure Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and to provide families . . . with real choices in how to best educate their children.”

The budget provides for corporate donations to pay up to $8,500 in tuition for the students to attend private schools. Special-education students can get up to $15,000 in tuition.

The scholarship funding will be assigned based on a priority system which will also take into account the family’s financial status. In addition, kids from the Philadelphia school district, as well as those from the Chester Upland, Harrisburg, York City and Duquesne will be heading up the list as well.

The new program will run alongside an existing one that offers state tax breaks to companies donating scholarship money to students already enrolled in private schools around Pennsylvania. Combined, companies that donate funds towards academic vouchers will be eligible for a total of $100 million, 60% of which will go towards private school students and 30% for the new public school program. $10 million will be allocated for scholarships for students from kindergarten and pre-K.

Lawrence Feinberg, a voucher opponent who is a school board member in Haverford, Delaware County, and co-chair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, said the bill’s passage marked “a sad day.”

The program, he said, diverts “money that should have been going into the general fund for use in the state budget” and “uses these tax dollars to fund private and religious schools.”