Opportunity Finds a Way

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  • In 2018 Pennsylvania's General Assembly expanded the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program by $25 million. This increased the number of student scholarships by 8,243.[1]
  • 42,918 student tax credit scholarship applications (42%) were still denied due to program limits.
  • Many more kids could have been helped if Governor Tom Wolf hadn't vetoed bipartisan legislation to increase tax credit caps by $100 million.[2]
  • 71% of Pennsylvania voters support tax credit scholarships.
  • An automatic escalator could end scholarship waitlists by 2024.


The 2018-19 budget increased EITC by $25 million, providing an additional 8,000 student scholarships.[3]

Each child deserves an exceptional education—one that fits their unique gifts and talents. Parents should have control over where and how their children are educated. Since the inception of tax credit scholarships nearly 20 years ago, hundreds of thousands of low- to middle-income Pennsylvania kids have received their educational lifelines through the EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit) and OSTC (Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit) programs. But arbitrary caps on these popular programs limit scholarships. We now have the data to show that scholarship waiting lists are reduced when the program limits are raised.


Approximately 8,000 children were able to attend high-quality schools for the first time thanks to the General Assembly’s budget increase in 2018. Myles Slade-Bowers was one of them.

Three years ago, Myles was in a challenging situation. His mother, Jocelyn, worked hard to provide her children an exceptional education at Bishop McDevitt High School instead of the persistently failing district school assigned to them. But after sacrificing to put two older siblings through private school and college, there wasn’t much left for Myles. Jocelyn was faced with a cold, hard reality: she couldn’t afford to keep Myles at Bishop McDevitt. But Jocelyn knew it was the environment Myles needed to succeed. She had to do something.

Myles’ lifeline turned out to be a scholarship through Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. The $2,000 scholarship made tuition manageable. Now, Myles is a senior at Bishop McDevitt and poised for a bright future.

In fact, Myles made national news in December 2019 when he spoke at a Presidential Roundtable in the Cabinet Room of the White House: [4


School choice opens up doors that would otherwise be slammed shut. As a young African American male in a low-income neighborhood, it’s more likely I would be a dropout of high school or even in prison at this very moment rather than speaking before you.

Myles Slade-Bowers at the Education Empowerment Roundtable.

Schools in 65 counties participate in the program and offer low- and middle-income children opportunities through EITC and OSTC: [5]

  • Children’s Scholarship Fund in Philadelphia has so many scholarship applicants that they hold a lottery to select recipients. Seventy-six percent of CSFP scholarship recipients are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches.[6]
  • Logos Academy in York, serves 275 students through an open enrollment policy. The student population is 82% minority, and 66% are below the poverty line.[7]
  • Joshua Group in Harrisburg provides scholarships to help more than 150 low-income K-12 city students attend a private school.[8]
  • Extra Mile—which supports schools including Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy and St. Benedict the Moor School in Pittsburgh—currently 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 them qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.[9],[10],[11]


In December, McKinsey & Company released a sobering report on learning losses in the wake of COVID-related education disruptions. It predicts students will on average lose five to nine months of learning, but for students of color, the situation is even worse—with an estimated six to 12 months lost.[12]

Private schools are much more likely to offer in-person education compared to district schools—even within the same neighborhood and especially in urban areas. In Pennsylvania, Catholic schools in Erie and Philadelphia are offering in-person classes while the local districts have struggled to transition from fully remote. Sean McAleer from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference estimates over 90% of nonpublic schools are either offering full in-person or some sort of a blended-mode instruction. EITC and OSTC can help every child attend a school that meets their needs.


Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly support these programs. According to polling conducted by EdChoice and the Commonwealth Foundation right before the pandemic, a whopping 71% of Pennsylvania voters support tax credit scholarships.[13] Other parental choice programs have similar levels of support.[14] And more recent national polls find support for parental choice options is increasing—with a RealClear Opinion Research survey showing a 10-point jump from April to August.[15]

Every child deserves an excellent education, and parents are best positioned to know what their children need. Even before COVID, 59% of Pa. parents preferred an option other than their assigned district school if cost and transportation weren’t concerns.[16] That’s why programs like EITC and OSTC are crucial. They help ensure children from all walks of life have access to exceptional schools.


Scholarships save kids from bad educational situations, create a robust workforce, and save taxpayer money.

When presented with a plan in 2019 to expand scholarship opportunities to all eligible Pennsylvania children, Gov. Wolf was quick to use his veto pen. He and other opponents wrongly cited “budget-busting” costs, “raids on the taxpayer,” and “it’s just too much” as reasons to veto student opportunity. In fact, it’s the opposite. The proposed EITC and OSTC expansion would have saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars, while simultaneously boosting the economy.[17],[18]

An analysis by Dr. Martin Lueken of EdChoice concluded the $100 million EITC increase vetoed by Wolf in 2019 would have saved state and local taxpayers a combined $265 million. The proposal would have also funded an estimated 55,000 additional scholarships, effectively ending the student waitlist.[19]

An economic impact analysis by Dr. Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation concluded that EITC and OSTC expansion would result in greater lifetime earnings for kids, billions of dollars in economic benefits to the commonwealth from those increased earnings, and reductions in criminal activity.[20]


An automatic escalator could end scholarship waitlists by 2024, giving our most vulnerable children the chance to thrive. Senators Jake Corman, Scott Martin, John DiSanto, and Mike Regan have a plan to offer each child the opportunity to attend a school that works for them. Representative Andrew Lewis is sponsoring a similar bill in the House.[21],[22]

  • The Excellent Education For All Act provides for the following one-time increases in FY 2021–22:
    • Increase the EITC program from $185 million to $250 million:
      • K-12 scholarships from $135 million to $185 million.
      • Pre-K grants from $12.5 million to $15 million.
      • Educational Improvement Organization grants from $37.5 million to $50 million.
    • Increase the OSTC program from $55 million to $150 million.
  • Each program would thereafter increase by 25% annually if 90% of the available tax credits are allocated in the previous year.

Tax credit scholarship caps are trapping tens of thousands of students in schools that don’t meet their unique needs and preventing local businesses from investing in their communities. Wolf justified his 2019 veto by calling the programs a distraction.[23]

“It distracts from what we ought to be focusing on, which is educating every child through our public school system.”

On the contrary, every child is unique and deserves diverse educational options. EITC and OSTC build a bridge for parents to provide their children an exceptional education and the chance of a better life. Tax credit scholarships benefit kids, their parents, and their communities. They give a boost to all Pennsylvania taxpayers and put us on a path to a stronger future. It’s time to unleash the power of education, so everyone wins.


[1] “Scholarship Tax Credits: Creating More Opportunities for Pennsylvania's Students,” Commonwealth Foundation Policy Blog, March 14, 2018. https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/scholarship-tax-credits.

[2] House Bill 800, https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2019&sInd=0&body=H&type=B&bn=800.

[3] Tax Credit Scholarship Caps (K-12),” PA Department of Community & Economic Development, https://infogram.com/k-12-tax-credit-scholarship-caps-plus-denied-1h1749j77o1x6zj?live.

[4]“Myles Goes to Washington,” Commonwealth Foundation Policy Blog, December 22, 2019. https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/myles-goes-to-washington.

[5]“Tax Credit Scholarships Awarded (2017–2018),” Right to Know Law Request, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, https://infogram.com/2017-18-eitc-ostc-scholarships-awarded-by-county-1ho16vwk75v72nq?live.

[6]“CBS Philly Describes the Excitement of March 2019 Lottery Day,” Children’s Scholarship Fund, Philadelphia, March 14, 2019, https://www.csfphiladelphia.org/about/news/cbs-philly-describes-the-excitement-of-march-2019-lottery-day/.

[7] Logos Academy Fact Sheet, https://www.logosyork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Logos-FactSheet_community-2018-2019-PROOF_revised-1.pdf.

[8] Joshua Group Scholarship Program, http://www.joshuagroup.org/new-page-1.

[9] Extra Mile Education Foundation, https://www.extramilefdn.org/about.php.

[10] Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy, https://www.sistertheabowman.org/.

[11] Saint Benedict the Moor School of Pittsburgh, https://www.sbtmschool.org/.

[12] McKinsey & Company Report, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-learning-loss-disparities-grow-and-students-need-help.

[13] EdChoice Pennsylvania K-12 and School Choice Survey, https://infogram.com/1pv0xrry9wjzw3sx0vj0e3wz1qar9r7yr3n.

[14] EdChoice Pennsylvania K-12 and School Choice Survey, https://infogram.com/1pv0xrry9wjzw3sx0vj0e3wz1qar9r7yr3n.

[15]“Support for School Choice Surges as Schools Start,” American Federation for Children, September 23, 2020, https://www.federationforchildren.org/support-for-school-choice-surges-as-schools-start/.

[16]“New Education Polling Results!” Commonwealth Foundation, May 8, 2020, https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/issues/detail/new-education-polling-results.

[17] EdChoice Fiscal Impact Statement, Pennsylvania 2020 Budget Session, https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/docLib/20200520_PAHB800FiscalNote_FY2021.pdf?t=5/20/2020%205:10:27%20PM.

[18]“Unleashing Educational Opportunity: The Untapped Potential of Expanded Tax Credit Scholarships,” Commonwealth Foundation Policy Blog, August 14, 2020, https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/unleashing-educational-opportunity.

[19] EdChoice Fiscal Impact Statement, Pennsylvania 2020 Budget Session, https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/docLib/20200520_PAHB800FiscalNote_FY2021.pdf?t=5/20/2020%205:10:27%20PM.

[20]“Unleashing Educational Opportunity: The Untapped Potential of Expanded Tax Credit Scholarships,” Commonwealth Foundation Policy Blog, August 14, 2020, https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/unleashing-educational-opportunity.

[21] Excellent Education For All Act, https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20210&cosponId=34538.

[22] Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda, https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20210&cosponId=33736.

[23]“Wolf Says He Will Veto Bill to Expand Tax Credits for Private, Religious School Scholarships,” Pennsylvania Capital Star, June 12, 2019, https://www.penncapital-star.com/education/wolf-says-he-will-veto-bill-to-expand-tax-credits-for-private-religious-school-scholarships/.