Pa. Governor to Block Education Opportunity for Thousands of Students

June 13, 2019, Harrisburg, Pa.—According to news reports, Governor Tom Wolf plans to veto a school choice bill, HB 800, that would expand tax credit scholarships in Pennsylvania.

The legislation would nearly double the successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit, which incentivizes private donations to fund scholarships for low-and middle-income school children. Scholarship programs currently deny about half of student applications and turn away more than $100 million in donations due to state-imposed limits on the programs.

Charles Mitchell, Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO, issued the following statement in response to Wolf’s planned veto:

Governor Wolf is about to make a tremendous mistake, and tens of thousands of Pennsylvania students will be worse off because of it. When given an opportunity to transcend politics and stand up for giving children a chance to attend high quality schools, he has instead signaled his intent to block that aid.  

Gov. Wolf has given absolutely no substantive argument against expanding the EITC scholarship program, but stated, “It distracts from what we ought to be focusing on, which is educating every child through our public school system.”

Though Gov. Wolf attended an elite private school that today costs nearly $60,000 per year, he plans to deny that same opportunity to families less privileged than his.

We ask that, before vetoing, Gov. Wolf consider the facts about tax credit scholarships and the low-income families they serve. These families’ choices are not “a distraction.”

Last year, 49,000 scholarship applications were denied because of program limits that this legislation would lift. A veto will needlessly deny educational opportunity to those children.

However, if Gov. Wolf does veto House Bill 800, lawmakers can correct his mistake. We urge legislative leaders of both chambers to demand an EITC expansion as part of the state budget. Doing so will prove that politics cannot deny educational opportunity from families and children seeking a better future.

Below are examples of some of the schools and programs made accessible to Pennsylvania students through EITC scholarships:

  • Logos Academy in York, which serves 275 students through an open enrollment policy. The student population is 82 percent minority and 66 percent below the poverty line (fact sheet on populations served);
  • Gesu School in Philadelphia, which serves 450 students100 percent of whom are on free and reduced lunch. The student population is 99 percent black and 90 percent graduate on time while 85 percent attend college;
  • Joshua Group offers an intensive academic tutoring and social mentoring after-school program serving more than 100 K-12 students attending both public and private schools in Harrisburg. The Joshua Group also provides scholarships to help more than 150 low-income K-12 city students attend a private school;
  • Independence Mission Schools in Philadelphia serves nearly 5,000 students, 70 percent of whom are eligible for a free or reduced lunch and 80 percent live in families making less than $50,000 a year. Seventy-five percent are non-Catholic, and 71 percent are African-American while 16 percent are Latino and 8 percent are Asian;
  • Children’s Scholarship Fund in Philadelphia, which has so many applicants for scholarship, they hold a lottery to select recipients. Seventy-six percent of CSFP scholarship recipients are eligible for free or reduced school lunch.
  • Extra Mile—which supports schools including Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy and St. Benedict the Moor School in Pittsburghcurrently serves more than 600 children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The majority of these students are African American and non-Catholic, and more than 80% of qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres at 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.