Raise the Limits on Tax Credit Scholarships

It was the middle of Wednesday, and I had 30 minutes—30 minutes and a choice. I could either eat my lunch in peace after a hectic morning of work, or I could use that half hour to fill out scholarship applications for my son, Myles. It was a no-brainer, and I’ll tell you why.

We live in Steelton with my other two children, Myles’ older brother and sister. I grew up here and attended Steel High. But not Myles. In fact, none of my kids have attended our local school district.

I know my kids better than anyone else, and I knew the district school would not be able to meet their needs. Myles has an eye condition called Nystagmus, which causes his eyes to stay in constant motion. It takes him longer than usual to adjust his depth perception as his field of view changes. After sustained periods of reading, Myles gets eye fatigue and has trouble concentrating.

So I chose to send him to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School for K-8, then to Bishop McDevitt High School. It was my choice, and I’m grateful for it. But it hasn’t been easy.

After scratching and scraping together enough money to put my older two children through private school, and now college, there wasn’t much left for Myles. I was faced with a cold, hard reality: I couldn’t afford to keep Myles at Bishop McDevitt. But I knew it was the environment he needed to succeed. I had to do something.

Our lifeline turned out to be a scholarship through Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

The program allows businesses to donate to scholarship funds in return for a smaller tax credit. These privately funded scholarships enable low- to middle-income families to afford a private school that would otherwise be out of their reach.

The scholarships I’d applied for that Wednesday afternoon, amounting to $2,000, came through—making tuition at Bishop McDevitt manageable. Now, Myles is thriving. He’s on the honor roll and loves to participate in extracurricular activities.

He’s also heavily involved in Gentlemen and Scholars—a mentoring program for young men who may be lacking a positive male role model in their life. Our state representative, Patty Kim, has been very supportive of the program, and we’re thankful to her. The more senior members of the program, like Myles, mentor the newcomers, teaching them critical life skills like etiquette, how to dress professionally, and how to operate a business.

Myles plans on attending medical school at Penn State University with the hope of opening his own practice as a psychiatrist. He developed an itch for psychiatry from reading my old college textbooks. Yes, he reads my old textbooks in his spare time!

But this almost didn’t happen.

If Myles hadn’t received that tax credit scholarship, I would not have been able to send him to the school that has set him up so well for success. In a different school, Myles would be on a different path.

If providing a high-quality education for my children is this hard for me—a single mom with a master’s degree who’s gainfully employed in my field—how difficult must it be for other moms who aren’t blessed with the same education and work experience?

Tax credit scholarships can help. But caps on these programs mean more applications are turned down than are awarded. Myles was one of the lucky ones.

As a mother of African-American children, especially males, I know they need to be ready to compete in this world. They already have enough targets on their backs, and it’s my job to remove as many barriers as I can.

That’s why I’m supporting legislation to expand these programs. Every student should have the same opportunity Myles has been blessed with. Every mother striving to provide the best education for her kids should be able to find the help I did.

Lawmakers can stand up for students by raising the limits on tax credit scholarships. It should be a no-brainer.

Jocelyn Maddox is a Steelton resident and the mother of three children.