School Choice

Give Children the Best: Education Savings Accounts

Apr 14, 2016 | Commentary by James Paul

Education Savings Accounts empower parents to design the best educational experience for their children. A well-designed ESA program would provide more educational options for families in need. They are the next step Pennsylvania students deserve. 

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Op-Ed: Is the Sky Falling on Children's Education?

What child hasn’t heard the story of Chicken Little? His encounter with a falling acorn leads him mistakenly to conclude the sky is falling. Mass hysteria ensues when his friends buy in to his doom-saying. Unfortunately, misguided panic isn’t confined to fairy tales.

In the aftermath of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as Secretary of Education, opponents predict she could decimate public education. DeVos is a well-known school choice advocate who believes in empowering parents and students with options. Unfortunately, critics view this not as a step forward but as a disaster.

But here’s one thing DeVos’s supporters and detractors agree on: Every student deserves access to a quality education. The goal is not in question, only the means.

Their perspective is misguided, unsupported by facts, and ultimately harmful for the future of American education.

But here’s one thing DeVos’s supporters and detractors agree on: Every student deserves access to a quality education. The goal is not in question, only the means.

Some believe traditional public schools assigned to students based on their zip code can meet every student’s individual needs—every time, in every town in America, in every situation.

Advocates of choice, though, believe traditional public schools work well for some students, but public charter schools, private schools, cyber schools, home schools, or some combination of these work best for others. And proponents of choice have the evidence on their side.

Indeed, when educational options increase, students perform better, traditional public schools improve, and taxpayers save money.

For proof, look no further than Pennsylvania’s highly popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, which allow businesses to direct a portion of their tax liability to fund scholarships to families dissatisfied with their assigned public school. Since 2001, more than 500,000 such scholarships have been awarded.

The results? Of 18 studies of educational choice scholarship programs nationwide, 14 found they improved academic performance.

Beyond the studies, the students are the real evidence. At St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia, for example, students are excited to learn, and their academic achievements are inspiring—despite the obstacles they face. Of 500 students at St. Francis, 74 percent are low-income, and many are immigrants, hailing from 45 countries.

Tuition runs only $3,700, with a total cost per student of $4,800. Even so, most students at St. Francis would be unable to afford tuition if not for the EITC and OSTC programs.

Traditional public schools also benefit from educational options. Of 33 studies of the impact of school choice scholarship programs on public schools, 31 found public schools actually improve as a result of choice. In Philadelphia, for example, traditional schools are exploring ways to improve their offerings to compete with public charter schools.

Far from fearing choice, we should expand educational options for all Pennsylvania students

What’s more, school choice makes fiscal sense. EITC and OSTC scholarships are roughly $2,000 per student. Meanwhile, school district funding per student is nearly $16,000 on average. As a result, the EITC alone saved Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $1 billion from 2002 to 2014, according to a recent audit by EdChoice.

Far from fearing choice, we should expand educational options for all Pennsylvania students. The thousands on waitlists for charter schools already show demand is there. That’s why HB 250, sponsored by House Speaker Mike Turzai, seeks to increase EITC and OSTC contribution caps so even more students benefit.

Lawmakers should also explore Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)—a path-breaking program that provides flexible funding to parents to customize their child’s education. Under this policy, funds earmarked for a child’s K-12 education are deposited into an account controlled by parents and supervised by the state.

These funds may be spent on a variety of educational services, including but not limited to private school tuition, tutoring, online programs, and even programs offered by local school districts. ESAs have been enacted in five states so far, with legislation introduced or pending in many others—including the Pennsylvania State House. 

When it comes to children’s futures, we must progress beyond the mindset that the public education system exists to prop up buildings or bureaucrats.

Instead, we must put children first. As DeVos has said, “Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars.” Too many students in our great state are forced to follow the dollars.

With DeVos’s confirmation, students and parents in Pennsylvania and across the nation can have renewed hope that the education policies coming from Washington, D.C., will ensure our education system serves students, not the reverse.

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posted by James Paul | 11:08 AM

Breaking: Charters Receive Funding to Educate Students

Advocacy group Education Voters of PA—notorious critics of parental choice and defenders of a one-size-fits-all education system—made a few headlines recently by selecting two columns of data from the Department of Education and using them to create a skewed narrative on charter schools.

It takes two points to form a straight line, but the group took one point alone—school district spending on charter school tuition—and neglected the second critical point: charter school enrollment.

Some news outlets picked up on this research and concluded that charter schools are disproportionately draining funds from school districts.

Charter schools, particularly online “cyber charters” have increasingly been blamed for school district financial woes, with administrators contending charters siphon much-needed money from district coffers.

Does this conclusion have merit? In short, no.

Education Voters rightly notes that charter school payments increased by $680 million, or 85 percent, between 2009 and 2015. You may be thinking, “680 million? That sounds like a lot!”

Yet, over the same six-year period, charter enrollment across Pennsylvania increased by 78 percent—from 72,000 students to nearly 130,000. In other words, districts are sending more money to charters because charters are attracting more students from districts. This is not groundbreaking. And it shouldn’t be alarming that charter payments increased by 85 percent when charter enrollment increased by 78 percent.

But don’t assume public schools receive less money as a result. First of all, charters receive roughly 20 percent less per-student funding than traditional district schools. And secondly, despite the Education Voters' website propagating the debunked myth that $1 billion in education funding was cut in 2011, total revenue in Pennsylvania’s school districts increased by nearly $3 billion between 2009 and 2015. 

Advocates of the educational status-quo are prone to scapegoat charter schools as the cause of their troubles, but the truth is the biggest cost driver for school districts isn’t charters but pension payments— which increased by $1.8 billion, or 337 percent over the six-year window. 

Pension reform is the best way to alleviate financial pressure on school districts. Additionally, school board members must rely on prudent budgeting and fiscal responsibility at the bargaining table.

We can improve our public school system only by tackling real reforms, not by targeting charter schools using selective data. Shoddy attacks on charters only punish the children and families who have discovered the school that best fits their needs

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posted by James Paul | 10:00 AM

Education Savings Accounts Across the Country

The movement to provide children with better education is building momentum in 2017 as education savings accounts (ESA) advance in nearly a dozen states. Legislation has been filed in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas to empower families by providing them with access to this groundbreaking school choice policy.  

ESAs take various forms, yet share the same solid principle – parents should have more freedom to choose the best education for their children.

ESA programs operate by placing most or all of the state’s per-pupil cost into a fund or on a debit card. Parents can use these ESA dollars on the school they choose (private, home, cyber, etc.), educational materials, tutoring, and transportation. Any remaining ESA funds are carried over to the next school year, incentivizing responsible use. These programs, often specifically designed for students with special needs, can prove life-changing and enjoy significant support among Americans.

In 2011, Arizona became the first state with an ESA program when it started its Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Students can receive up to 90% of their state education funds, but eligibility has remained restricted and primarily serves students with special needs, those from military families, and those attending the worst-performing schools. However, this year Arizona’s state legislature has introduced a bill that would make eligibility universal, creating new opportunities for every student.

In Arkansas, called “school choice country” by lieutenant governor Tim Griffin, lawmakers are considering a bill which would create an ESA program funded entirely by tax-exempt private donations. Though governor Asa Hutchinson has not yet signaled support for the pro-student legislation, reports show that it would be an affordable way to provide school choice to thousands of Arkansas students.

Finally, Iowa’s new legislative majority and governor are optimistic about achieving greater educational opportunity and freedom, including through ESAs, which are strongly supported by pro-school choice Iowans. New ESA legislation is in the works to benefit Iowa students, including those from low-income families.

Across America, the movement for better education continues to gain ground, build support, and improve lives. Pennsylvania has long been a leader in providing school choice options to families, but initiatives across the country should inspire the commonwealth to do more to provide ESAs to students in need.

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posted by Kris Malysz, James Paul | 01:00 PM

Crucial School Choice Expansion Passes Committee

In a bipartisan vote, the House Education Committee advanced legislation to boost Pennsylvania’s crucial private school scholarship programs, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). HB 250, sponsored by Speaker Mike Turzai, increases the EITC by $50 million and the OSTC by $25 million.

The legislation paves the way for more success stories like Hudson, whose OSTC scholarship allows him to attend and excel at Philadelphia Classical School, and Kaiden Myers, who attended the Westwood School in Philadelphia with the help of the EITC. 

The EITC and OSTC serve more than 50,000 students—larger than the school district of Pittsburgh—with scholarships of roughly $2,000 per student. A recent study by EdChoice estimates the EITC saved Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $1 billion from 2002 to 2014. Private scholarship programs are truly a win-win proposition.

Why are scholarship tax credits different from other state tax credits, such as those for filmmakers? In short, because scholarship tax credits are not corporate welfare.

  1. EITC & OSTC do not pick winners through loosely-defined “economic development." Hundreds of scholarship organizations may receive donations, and hundreds of thousands of students are eligible to benefit from a scholarship.
  2. EITC & OSTC provide a high quality education for students, while saving taxpayer funds, since the variable costs of students who withdraw from public schools greatly exceeds the cost of tax credits awarded to participating businesses.
  3. Businesses who give via the EITC and OSTC are still contributing to education of Pennsylvania children—but these funds are available for private schools, private pre-k, and various educational improvement organizations.

HB 250 deserves the support of lawmakers who believe in high quality educational options for all Pennsylvania children.

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posted by James Paul | 11:00 AM

Q&A: Education Savings Accounts

Could Education Savings Accounts change public education in Pennsylvania?

We asked Jonathan Butcher, education director for the Goldwater Institute in Arizona and nationally-known expert on ESAs, for his expertise on this cutting edge school choice policy.

[Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

CF: What are Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), and from where did the idea originate?

Jonathan Butcher: Well, most families—and those in state legislature—are familiar with the idea of a scholarship. You provide public funds to a family in the form of a voucher scholarship to send a child to a new school. And that’s the extent of that choice, which is a great one. For thousands of children across the U.S., these scholarships have provided tremendous opportunity to fund a quality education.

But we took the idea one step further. We said, “what if families had a flexible use account?” With an ESA, the state deposits a portion of a child’s part of the funding formula in a private account that families use to buy educational products and services for their children. In the state of Arizona, it comes in the form of a flexible-use debit card. In other states, like Nevada and Florida, as it’s currently underway, it’s actually a reimbursable set of educational purchases. It’s a flexible way to customize a child’s education.

CF: Which states have ESAs in place already?

JB: There are five states. Arizona was the first; Florida followed in 2014, and then three states in 2015: Mississippi, Tennessee, and Nevada.

CF: When public funds become part of an ESA, do they remain public funds or do they become the property of the parent?

JB: That’s a terrific question and a great distinction. These funds become private funds. Parents are effectively contractors for their child’s education. It’s something that a recent court ruling in Nevada made quite clear that the court recognized these funds do become private funds for families.

CF: Critics might ask: Will ESAs undermine the traditional school system model?

JB: Every child deserves a chance of quality education, without a doubt. The fact is that there are public schools / traditional district schools serving families well across the country—and that’s great. So no one is going to stop them or take that away from them. But there’s also the truth that every child is different. They have unique needs; maybe there’s a child that has special needs or maybe is bullied in school. It may just be a child that wants to do advanced Russian and it’s not offered at the public school.

What we need to provide for them is a way to go and find those educational services. That’s what the accounts do. They allow families to go and seek out opportunities for their children to meet their needs, or help them get ahead, or to help them catch up.

CF: Who are the opponents of ESAs?

JB:  They’re pretty familiar: the same groups that have sued to stop private school choice, and even charter schools around the country: teachers’ unions, the school board association in Arizona, superintendents’ associations, and other education associations. Groups that are lobbying against families—that’s really what they do. They want to require that children attend their assigned school and we direct as much taxpayer money to that school as possible irrespective of the achievement and whether those children are being served.

That’s what we want to change—what we need to change. Every parent should have access to something that gives their child a chance at the American Dream. 

CF: What's happening in Nevada and what does it mean for the future of ESAs in that state—and beyond?

JB: The significance for the entire country with what’s going on in Nevada is that the lawmakers made every public school child in the state of Nevada eligible for an education savings account. That’s never been done before, both for ESAs as well as for nearly every private school choice opportunity.

There are 450,000 children assigned to public schools in the state of Nevada, and this law that they passed last year made every one of them eligible to apply. It didn’t compel them to leave or force them to do anything. But for those families that are looking for other solutions, this law gave every child the same opportunity.

CF: Was this a big change from other states that focused ESAs on children with special needs?

JB: That’s right. In Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi, which have excellent, very strong laws—their laws are directed to help children with special needs specifically, like children on the autism spectrum, or children with hearing or vision impairments. But Nevada said, “You know what? We’re going to give every child the same chance to succeed.”

CF: And what did the courts say of this?

JB: The ACLU in Nevada sued shortly after the law was signed in 2015, and the state Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that ESAs do not violate provisions in the Nevada state constitution against providing money to religious or private purposes. They’re otherwise known as Blaine amendments; thirty-eight states have these.

What the court said was that ESAs do not violate these provisions—they are in fact constitutional. And that’s significant, because now there are two states, Arizona and Nevada, where the highest court in those states have said that ESAs are in fact constitutional under these otherwise discriminatory provisions.

CF: What are some ways states can fund ESAs?

JB: With ESAs, the money flows from the general fund to the family who can then spend it on a variety of products and services. But as people in Pennsylvania well know, and many other states that have tax credit scholarships, donors can contribute funds to organizations that will then award scholarships to families to use for their child’s education.

The same idea can be applied to ESAs. There are states like Missouri, Virginia, perhaps even Pennsylvania, where the constitutional provisions might be such that funding it using general fund dollars may not fit with the way the constitution or state laws are already arranged. And so you could take a tax credit funded model and give families instead of one choice, for say, a scholarship, you could give them multiple choices with a restricted-use account.

The critical thing to remember with these accounts is that families can make multiple purchases simultaneously. So if a family finds a tutor, for example, that they think is excellent for their child, they can look at both what that tutor will provide for that child, and at what else they may want to spend on the child’s education. Whether they save some of the money for the future for college, or spend the money, say, on an online class that the child does at home. Parents can be cost-conscious about those services.

What we want to do is we don’t want there to be any barriers between children, families, income, race, whatever. We don’t want there to be something else to divide families and students. We want them to all have great opportunities. Let’s start there and say, “look, we want every child to have a quality option.” So let’s push to get every child an option. And if there is opposition and compromises that must follow, then inevitably, that’s what happens. But I still think that is where our goal needs to be. It needs to be that every child, no matter where they live, what their zip code is, around the country—eventually, we want the day to come where they can choose how and where and when they learn.

CF: What makes you so confident that choice will lead to improvement in education outcomes?

JB: We find in the research that in most of the random assignment studies, the highest quality studies we have, it’s true that when parents do have options, there are positive outcomes both in terms of achievement as well as persistence in school and in college. The more choices we can give families, the better outcomes will be on the horizon for students.

CF: How optimistic are you about school choice reforms being enacted in the near future?

JB: I think we have school choice successes all around us. Whether it’s a new charter school law in Washington state to the states that are just starting off with ESAs like Tennessee and Nevada. There is a lot to be excited about. Lawmakers around the country are considering education savings accounts. There’s at least two dozen states that have been working hard over the past two years alone to bring these accounts to families within their borders. So we are very excited about what lies in the future.

Visit goldwaterinstitute.org for more of Jonathan Butcher’s work and follow him on Twitter @JM_Butcher.

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posted by John Bouder | 09:01 AM

Budget Solution of the Week: School Choice

Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Dave Reed challenged his colleagues to change the way Harrisburg operates: “Now is the time to reimagine and redesign government, our state and our future.” A change in Harrisburg’s culture is surely needed. Decades of high taxes, wasteful spending, and poorly designed policies have sunk the commonwealth’s finances and stymied economic progress.

What's most devastating is when poor policies impact the future of our children—which is why reimagining our education system is so critical. Too often, Pennsylvania’s education model prioritizes systems over students. School officials—rather than parents—are given precedent to make consequential decisions affecting the education of more than 1.7 million students. This top-down management style has produced subpar outcomes in too many schools, forcing parents to seek alternatives to traditional public schools.

Unfortunately, not every family is lucky enough to send their son or daughter to a high-performing school. The education establishment will place the blame on funding shortages, but as my colleague James has noted, education spending is at its highest level ever. School districts spend, on average, $15,800 per student. This figure could always grow higher, but inflating school budgets will only add to Pennsylvania’s high tax burden, without guaranteeing any improvement in academic achievement.

The solution to the state’s educational woes doesn’t require more political control. It requires more parental control. To a limited extent, Pennsylvania encourages parental control with programs like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). But more needs to be done.

Every student deserves a quality education. And every family deserves to determine what a quality education looks like. Expanding school choice programs can help make these goals a reality. Putting parents firmly in control of educational decisions has led to improved student outcomes and savings for taxpayers. The latter is especially relevant in the context of the state’s fiscal outlook.

Pennsylvania is staring down a $600 million shortfall for the year, and will need to deal with a projected $1.7 billion projected shortfall in 2017-18. To address these challenges, CF released Embracing Innovation in State Government, detailing how policymakers can reduce state government’s cost to avoid another round of tax increases.

School choice is one of the cost-saving measures included in the report. The costs of the EITC and OSTC represent just a fraction of student funding in a traditional public school. For example, in 2013-2014, the average EITC scholarship was $1,587 per student, whereas funding in a traditional public school exceeded $15,000 per student. Moving students to the less expensive, more effective alternative nets taxpayers significant savings.

Taking a hard look at how Pennsylvania funds education will play a critical role in controlling spending and truly reimaging government. 

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posted by Bob Dick | 10:13 AM

School Choice: Helping One Student at a Time

As a recent graduate from PA Leadership Charter School (PALCS), I’m familiar with school choice. In fact, for the past five years, I have joined my Student Government on an annual trip to the capitol in an effort to preserve and strengthen cyber charter schools. I have been homeschooled and cyber charter schooled all of my life, and I know these schools are worth fighting for because traditional schools don’t work for everyone. I've heard countless stories from students who found success when given the choice for an alternative education. 

Benjamin and Cherise BylerMy sister, Cherise, is one of those students.

Upon Cherise’s adoption from Haiti at the age of six, my parents discovered she had lead poisoning, a condition bearing symptoms of developmental delays and learning disabilities. As a result, she processed information more slowly than most and struggled to remember what she learned.

My parents homeschooled her and the rest of my siblings until we reached middle and high school. In the fall of 2009, she began PALCS for about a month. Without an IEP, she struggled in her classes. Thankfully, the principal of our school district’s elementary school recommended we test her for an IEP at Paxtonia Elementary School. At 12 years old, Cherise enrolled at Paxtonia. After completing her IEP tests, she was placed in a 4th grade classroom with 1st grade work.

She loved it. Every day, she met with a Special Ed teacher, thrived in her studies, and enjoyed the public school experience.

One might conclude that because traditional public school helped her succeed once, it would always be the best choice for her. This was not the case. Before Cherise turned 13 in August of 2010, the school district moved her to Central Dauphin Middle School so she could stay closer to her age group. Skipping 5th grade, Cherise found herself in a Special Ed 6th grade classroom.

On the spectrum of severely mentally disabled to normal, Cherise fell just short of normal. Many of her classmates, though, struggled with more complex or severe disabilities. As a result, the classroom proved difficult for her on account of many distractions, interruptions, and behavioral challenges from classmates. Added to that, she faced racist remarks on the school bus and witnessed other students face bullying and discrimination outside the classroom.

Do all public school students experience these circumstances? Absolutely not. However, for Cherise, it was the furthest thing from the thriving learning environment she deserved.

That’s when PALCS came back into the picture. At that time in her life, and for the right reasons, PALCS worked for Cherise. After finishing 6th grade, she transferred back to PALCS with her IEP and thrived in 7th grade. Ever since, Cherise has had the opportunity to job shadow with various local businesses, complete speech therapy, receive one-on-one help from teachers, meet consistently with a life skills teacher, increase her reading skills, and even take classes to earn an arts certificate when she graduates next spring.

I could not be more proud of Cherise and the hard work she’s done to learn and stretch herself. Were it not for school choice and the wonderful teachers and faculty who support it, she would not be where she is today. Her story makes clear that both traditional and cyber charter schools have something to offer students. Both systems exist for the student, and every student is unique. Therefore, whether students thrive in a traditional public school or in cyber charter school, school choice matters. Cherise can attest to that.

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posted by Ben Byler | 09:21 AM

Magnum, P.I. Comes to Bethlehem

Bethlehem School District employs private investigators to track down students with fraudulent home addresses. According to The Morning Call, DBM Investigations and Consulting has identified 35 students fraudulently enrolled in Bethlehem schools who will now be expelled:

Superintendent Joseph Roy told the board that DBM used multiple methods to determine whether students and their families actually live in the district, such as looking at public records and knocking on doors. In some cases, an investigator staked out houses to see who came and went, Roy said.

"For people who are purposefully misleading us and lying about their address, that requires more intensive investigation," Roy said. "But we're very, very pleased with the result at a really small cost to the district."

Roy said the district is not pursuing any financial compensation or criminal penalties against the offending families, though it legally could have.

Why is this happening? Two reasons.

First: Nearby Allentown School District limits the number of Allentown students permitted to enroll in charter schools. In so doing, Allentown owes less money to charters and forces the charters to enroll students from other districts. 

This doesn’t change the fact that parents in Allentown are desperate for charter schools. So they submit paperwork with phony Bethlehem residences—thereby requiring the charter school to bill Bethlehem instead of Allentown.

Secondly, The Morning Call explains that some of the fraudulent addresses are from parents who want to enroll in Bethlehem public schools but do not live within district boundaries.

What a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately this nothing new in Pennsylvania—or elsewhere in the country—where districts are increasingly cracking down on “education thieves.”

To be clear: families should not be celebrated for knowingly submitting false paperwork. But stories such as these demonstrate the lengths parents will go when they are denied educational choice.

Further, they underscore the need to free children from arbitrary school district boundaries. Whether that means expanding access to charter schools, increasing the caps on Pennsylvania’s private scholarship programs, or enacting education savings accounts—all families deserve multiple educational options.

Be thankful if you live in a district with a high quality public school—or have the means to afford private or homeschooling alternatives. Beyond that? Think about supporting school choice for all children in Pennsylvania. Where you live should never determine the quality of your education.

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posted by James Paul | 05:15 PM

Children Benefit From School Choice, And So Do You

The moral argument for school choice is irrefutable: Every child deserves access to a first-rate education. Families should not be limited by the supply of public schools within artificially-drawn district boundaries. This is why Pennsylvania’s private scholarship programs, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), are so important. They empower thousands of children each year to break free of the education-by-zip code injustice and instead attend a school that best fits their unique needs.

It is not just scholarship recipients, however, who benefit from tax credit programs. Taxpayers, too, realize massive savings thanks to school choice. This according to The Tax-Credit Scholarship Audit, an essential new report from the team at EdChoice.

Author Marty Lueken’s analysis of Pennsylvania’s EITC program finds roughly $1.3 billion in taxpayer savings between 2002 and 2014. The report, which does not examine the OSTC, compares the cost of an EITC scholarship with the variable costs of each student enrolled in traditional public schools.

Crucially, Lueken estimates and accounts for students who switch from public to private schools as a result of the scholarship program. These are the students who generate the highest savings to taxpayers. The report estimates between 26 and 45 percent of scholarship recipients must have switched from public schools in order for the program to be fiscally neutral—certainly a reasonable and achievable projection.

What’s the bottom line? Say you’re pleased with your local public school. Perhaps you never thought twice about the state’s scholarship program, and you don’t have strong feelings about school choice one way or another. If you’re a Pennsylvania taxpayer, you have still benefited from the EITC.

All the more reason to increase the program and provide more scholarships to families.

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posted by James Paul | 11:00 AM

House Speaker Seeks Boost for Vital Scholarship Programs

Pennsylvania’s private school scholarship programs account for less than 2 percent of the $11 billion in state funds allocated for public schools. Yet it is impossible to overstate the significance of these programs for children and families.

Kevin McCorry of Newsworks tells the story of Thomas Short, a parent in South Philadelphia, who can send his sons to private school thanks to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs:

The only way he's able to afford Catholic school tuition is because he takes advantage of a scholarship program that's funded by state tax credits. Tuition for two children normally runs north of $9,000 per year.

With the scholarship, he pays just $1,500.

"Without this, [they're] not going here," he said.

According to Mr. Short, St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary is a better option than the traditional district school:

Short's perception of the nearby neighborhood public schools is low.

"They're not trying to develop the person as much as just trying to get them through to the next grade," he said. "I don't know why I'm saying that. It's just my opinion. Maybe that's how the public schools used to be back in the day when I went."

If House Speaker Mike Turzai has his way, the EITC and OSTC will see a sizable boost during the next fiscal year. Speaker Turzai recently released a co-sponsorship memo for legislation increasing the caps on how much businesses may donate to both programs—up from $175 million to $250 million.

This, on the heels of a $25 million EITC increase last July, would be welcome news for families and schoolchildren across the commonwealth.

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posted by James Paul | 11:00 AM

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