Maloni Lewis lives with two disabled parents and three older brothers, who are in and out of jail. Her mom, Renee, wanted a better life for her daughter, so she applied for Florida’s tax credit (FTC) scholarship program. This allowed Maloni to attend a private Christian school instead of her underperforming local public school. After a lot of hard work—and with the help and encouragement of school staff—Maloni graduated high school and attends the College of Central Florida.
The tax credit scholarship program has filled Renee with peace and gratitude. She calls it a lifeline that “allows kids and families to dream. What they thought was so far out of reach is possible.”
Renee is not alone. A recent EdChoice survey found the vast majority of parents are satisfied with the program (92 percent) and their chosen school (89 percent).
But the positive outcomes aren’t constrained to the years in K-12. Research has also shown the FTC program increases college enrollment. According to a 2017 study by the Urban Institute, children who spend any time in the program are 15 percent more likely to attend college. This increases to 46 percent more likely after four years in the program. Participation had a small positive impact on associate degree attainment, but the effect on bachelor’s degree attainment is not yet known.
An added benefit of the FTC program is the effect on the public-school system. A 2010 study by researchers at Northwestern University found “the increased competitive pressure public schools faced following the introduction of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program led to general improvements,” in the performance of public schools. Since the gains occurred immediately (before students even left the schools) and were more pronounced in schools with the highest risk of losing students to the FTC program, it appears that competition is at least partially responsible for the improvements.
These findings mean that the tax credit scholarships not only help the students enrolled in the program, but they benefit students in public schools too.
The amount of tax credits available for scholarships is capped by law. In 2011, Florida implemented an escalator that automatically increases the cap by 25 percent if 90 percent of the tax credits are used in the previous year. This provision has led to Florida tripling the number of scholarships issued while increasing the average scholarship amount by 60 percent, thereby empowering more Florida families to pursue the best education for their children.
Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) scholarship was launched in 2011—the same year as the FTC. However, since there is no provision to automatically increase available tax credits, our program has a much smaller reach. As the chart below shows, we’ve fallen significantly behind Florida in both the dollar amount and number of scholarships awarded.
Infographic: Florida vs. Pennsylvania Tax Credit Scholarships
These aren’t just numbers; students and their families are the ones who suffer when scholarships aren’t available. In 2016-17 alone almost 53,000 tax credit scholarship applications were denied in Pennsylvania.
The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program, which was added in 2013, is limited to students in the bottom 15 percent of schools. A whopping 64 percent of OSTC applications were rejected in 2016-17. The failure of lawmakers to expand these programs hurts disadvantaged students the most.
The solution is simple. Raise the limit for tax credit scholarships. Regardless of income, zip code, or race, all children should have opportunities to learn. By allowing the tax credit cap to increase when 90 percent of credits are used, we can empower more young students, just like Maloni, to dream and obtain what seems impossible right here in Pennsylvania.