Students Harmed when Scholarships are Politicized

Bill Blum, Director of Finance at Kennedy Catholic High School (KCHS) in Hermitage, witnesses the power of education choice every day. But he’s also seen the suffering caused when these lifechanging programs are reduced to political footballs.

The Diocese of Erie runs Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) scholarship programs covering 33 Catholic schools in northwest Pennsylvania, including Kennedy. For at least four years, a large business in Erie contributed significant OSTC funding to the diocesan scholarship program. Tragically, repeated delays in receiving their tax credits—caused by Governor Wolf’s actions in 2015-16 and 2016-17—convinced the business to pull out of the program. This resulted in a loss of $100,000 in OSTC scholarship funds for the school. Enough to educate more than 100 kids.

This was a significant problem for the school and its students. Forty percent of students who attend Kennedy live within the boundaries of a low-performing school as defined by the state, making the students eligible for OSTC scholarships. Families from these districts tend to have lower household incomes and need more financial aid to attend Kennedy. The school wasn’t willing to turn away the approximately 140 students who depended on the scholarships, so they diverted funds from other programs to reduce their tuition. This direct hit to the school’s bottom line affected its offerings to students throughout the school year.

Kennedy Catholic High School didn’t lose scholarship funds due to a lack of available tax credits or a lack of business interest. Rather, students at Kennedy were directly harmed by Governor Wolf’s decision to illegally withhold tax credit approval letters to gain leverage during state budget battles. The education of Pennsylvania students should come before party politics.