Pennsylvania Kids Need School Choice Heroes

I must confess, my superhero education is lacking. Much to the chagrin of my children, I don’t know the difference between DC and Marvel or the characters in each universe. They’re planning a movie marathon to get me up to speed. (I suspect it’s just an excuse to re-watch them.)

There are other—more important—heroes I can easily identify: parents who are working to put their kids in the schools where they will thrive. And, of course, the legislators who help make this possible.

Under current law, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, which provide scholarships for students to attend the school of their choice, are limited by arbitrary caps. As a result, around half of all scholarship applications are denied each year.

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai introduced House Bill 800 to transform the EITC by allowing it to grow to meet student needs. For kids who need another option—especially kids in violent or failing schools—HB 800 offered a lifeline.

Last month, every Republican lawmaker in the House, along with four brave Democrats, voted for HB 800. Earlier this month, every Republican Senator also voted for the bill.

Why are these lawmakers heroes?

In 2017-18, almost 50,000 tax credit scholarship applications were denied because of the current cap. The initial $100 million EITC increase in HB 800 would go a long way toward addressing last year’s 28,000 EITC rejections. Since kids who apply for OSTC scholarships are equally eligible under EITC, HB 800 would also provide relief for the students whose 21,000 OSTC applications were turned away.

In addition to the upfront increase, HB 800 would allow the program to grow by 10 percent when at least 90 percent of credits are claimed the previous year. This would dramatically reduce waiting lists and end the treatment of EITC and OSTC as a political football used by both sides in budget negotiations each year.

Curious who are the heroes helping kids attend the school of their choice? Look for the names colored green in the House and Senate.

Unfortunately, despite bipartisan support for HB 800 in the legislature, Governor Wolf vetoed the bill on Tuesday. The tens of thousands of students desperate for a chance at educational success didn’t seem to matter.

In the 1980s, Tina Turner sang, “All the children say, we don't need another hero.” In Pennsylvania in 2019, that’s not the case. Our children do need heroes—not Marvel or DC heroes, but the kind who will offer them a brighter educational future.

Despite Wolf’s veto, lawmakers can save the day once more by expanding this lifeline as part of the state budget. The fight’s not over yet—so don’t count out any of the heroes fighting for EITC.