Note: This piece originally appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette
For the Hispanic community, education is the key to making the American Dream a reality. Many of us have abuelos or parents who were forced drop out of school before reaching their teens to help support the family—my paternal grandparents included. Tough times have emblazoned a love of education on our hearts.
Yet far too many Latinos remain victims of their ZIP code and socio-economic status when it comes to quality schooling.
It’s shameful that the biggest barrier to the American Dream is our antiquated education system, which traps so many Latinos in sub-par schools.
For far too long, we’ve swallowed whole the notion that if we would only throw more of our hard-earned money at the education problem, it will work itself out. It’s time to stop burying our heads in the sand. It’s time we expand alternatives that enhance educational opportunity for everyone—like charter schools, homeschooling, and tax-credit scholarships.
Pennsylvania’s Educational Investment Tax Credit (EITC) is a great example. It allows companies to give scholarships to students in return for a slightly smaller tax credit. What better way to invest in children’s futures?
One organization utilizing the EITC is Joshua Group, a scholarship organization in Harrisburg serving the Allison Hill area where most residents fall into lower-income brackets. Joshua Group combats poverty through education. In the words of founder Kirk Hallett: “This isn’t school choice, it’s a chance. Choice implies that you have two adequate options, but in the case of so many struggling Pennsylvanians that’s not reality.”
Many Philadelphia schools that participate in the EITC also aim to assist kids in need. In fact, Philadelphia Classical School in the Callowhill neighborhood reserves 40 percent of seats specifically for low-income students.
Joshua Group currently provides EITC scholarships to 70 local students, allowing them to attend private schools in Harrisburg. Almost one-third come from Hispanic households. It’s no wonder that a recent nationwide survey by the Friedman Foundation found that 62 percent of Latinos support charter schools, 73 percent support education savings accounts, and 76 percent support tax-credit scholarships!
Take a look at Cendy Salas-Lopez, who is preparing to graduate from Bishop McDevitt High School thanks to her Joshua Group scholarship. The oldest of four children, Cendy will be the first person in her immediate family to graduate high school. She hopes to attend college to become a teacher and a translator.
“Smart kids in Harrisburg drop out of the public schools because of the environment and lack of opportunity,” Cendy said. “They are trapped in a vicious cycle.”
She’s right. At Harrisburg High School, where Cendy would be without the scholarship, the graduation rate is less than 50 percent, and only one in five children is on grade level in reading and math. Violence and arrests at the school create a difficult learning atmosphere—it’s hard to focus on calculus when you’re worried about your safety.
But EITC recipients from Joshua Group are seeing great results. In fact, Joshua Group will celebrate its first college graduate in the spring.
“My parents and I see this scholarship as a chance to succeed and build a good career,” Cendy added. “We wish more people knew about Joshua Group and similar scholarships.”
Without question, this program is changing the lives of students and families. It’s enabling many Latinos to achieve their dreams.
Curiously, the EITC is not a priority for Governor Tom Wolf, who has directed his administration to freeze the program until a state budget is signed into law—a draconian step that seems unnecessary given program funds are donated by private businesses and are not reliant on government appropriations.
A Pittsburgh school serving EITC scholars even trekked to Harrisburg recently, warning that if funds remain frozen, they’ll have to shut their doors.
Wolf is moving Pennsylvania in the wrong direction on educational choice. Instead of pressing pause on the EITC, we should be fighting to expand the program.
It’s time to lift caps on the EITC donations from private companies and empower all children to thrive—especially those stuck in poor schools through no fault of their own.
Education is the antidote to poverty. Instead of covering up the problem with a bigger Band-Aid of tax dollars, let’s cure it.
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