Yesterday, the House Education Committee advanced legislation to expand Pennsylvania’s successful tax credit scholarship program. HB 800, sponsored by Speaker Mike Turzai, would increase the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) by $100 million and offer an automatic escalator if voluntary donations and demand for scholarships keep up with that cap.
Yet the bill was met with opposition, much of which centered around general opposition to private schools. Opponents implied private schools drained money from public schools and do not serve low-income students. This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth.
The notion of “robbing the poor to give to the rich”—taking money from public education to give to “rich kids”—is simply wrong, intentionally or otherwise.
Programs like the EITC (and its companion, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit) serve thousands of low-income students around the commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location within the state. These students, often trapped in poor academic settings due to their zip code, rely on voluntary donations to provide opportunities for academic achievement that would not be there if not for these ground-breaking programs.
Here are the just a few of the schools and organizations serving low-income students that would be able to serve more families under HB 800:
- Joshua Group in Harrisburg;
- Logos Academy in York (fact sheet on populations served);
- Independence Mission Schools in Philadelphia;
- Mother Teresa Academy in Erie;
- Gesu School in Philadelphia (CF wrote a recent profile of Gesu here);
- Penn Mont Academy in Hollidaysburg;
- Imani Christian Academy in Pittsburgh; and
- Children’s Scholarship Fund in Philadelphia (which has so many applicants for scholarship, they hold a lottery to select recipients).
HB 800 will not take away resources from Pennsylvania schoolchildren that need them the most. In fact, it will give these children academic hope, support, and opportunities that would not exist for them without it.
And to the retorts that HB 800 will hurt public schools? The bill actually enables per-student spending in public schools to increase slightly, as these schools keep monies received for students that are not physically in their classrooms. Further, HB 800 only represents a fraction all of school district spending, less than 1 percent in 2016-17. Finally, the EITC is saving money overall for the commonwealth while right-sizing classrooms in some of the most challenged schools in the Keystone State.
HB 800 is about education equality and opportunity. This transformational proposal, should it become law, will remove impediments to academic hope, life-changing opportunities, and pathways to a successful future that have eluded Pennsylvania schoolchildren for too long. Just as the current broken methods of funding education won’t do any longer, it’s time to retire the worn-out and simply wrong rhetoric opposing reforms such as HB 800.