Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have created a new tax credit scholarship program that will enable low and middle income to escape from academically failing public schools. Students in the bottom 15% of schools will be eligible for the new program, while there has also been a recent expansion to the existing tax credit scholarship program in the state that passed the legislature June 30.
"Even though there is more work to be done to give all families in Pennsylvania real educational freedom, leaders and advocates in the Keystone State did what every school choice supporter should do: Never give up," Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, said. "Other states can learn from Pennsylvania's hard-fought experience to provide school choice to more families, as well as their dedication to keep on fighting for kids."
âMore work to be done' is a reference to a Senate approved voucher measure failing to pass the House of Representatives last year.
The new program creates a tax credit for corporate donations to nonprofits that then distributes scholarships to students living in areas of public schools in the lowest 15%. These credits are worth 75% of the corporations' donations, although this rises to 90% if donations are continued for a consecutive year.
"The Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit ensures many families who need access to better schools will be empowered through school choice," Otto Banks, executive director of Pennsylvania's REACH Alliance & Foundation, said. "We are grateful to the legislative leaders and governor who put the interests of students first, as well as to the many parents and supporters who dedicated their time and energy to this cause."
There is a $50 million cap on total credits and in the coming school year corporate donations have a maximum of $400,000, although this increases to $750,000 in future years.
To be eligible to receive a scholarship a student must come from a family with a yearly income below $60,000 plus $12,000 per additional child in the household. The scholarships are for a maximum of $15,000 for special needs students and $8,500 for regular students.
"Months of feverish activity on the part of school choice advocates have paid off in a big way here in Pennsylvania," Charles Mitchell, Commonwealth's vice president, said. "It's simply unacceptable that there is a violent incident every 17 minutes in one of our worst-performing schools, and thanks to our recent victory, we're no longer accepting it."