Gov. Tom Corbett introduced an education reform package in Pennsylvania Oct. 11 that includes a pilot voucher program and an increase to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) scholarship program.

Corbett, a former teacher, said at a press conference in York that the focus in education reform needs to be “child, parent, teacher … and just in that order.”

“I believe you need to crawl before you can walk, walk before you run,” said Corbett, who believes his reform proposal provides “common ground” from which Pennsylvanians can improve.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, chairman of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, was quick to respond to the governor’s proposal.

“It was very encouraging to hear Gov. Corbett voice his support for the school voucher program and more EITC scholarship funding,” the Archbishop said. “His words should serve as a clarion call to the people of Pennsylvania.

“As citizens, we face a pivotal opportunity to improve the lives and enrich the minds of our children. School choice is the right choice for Pennsylvania. It will give families the freedom to educate their children as they see fit, and it offers real alternatives for underprivileged families who seek to give their children a chance to succeed.”

The point person for school choice initiatives in the Archdiocese, Deputy Secretary for Catholic Education Jason Budd, praised the proposal and emphasized the need for school choice in the state.

“All parents should have the right to choose where they send their children for their education,” he said. “Further, we feel that parents should not be inhibited from their choice of education based on their financial status.

“Currently geography and financial status determine a student’s academic future. We hope this will change going forward, and school choice will be the catalyst,” Budd said.

The specifics of the increase to the EITC program, which is currently funded at $75 million, were not announced. An increase to EITC will provide more low- and middle-income families with tuition assistance they need.

The pilot program for vouchers includes full “opportunity scholarships” to students in the bottom 5 percent of public elementary and high schools judged to be “failing.”

The family income of eligible students would be capped at 130 percent or less of the federal poverty rate. That equates to a family of four earning $29,000 a year.

Further, students whose families earn 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $41,000 a year, would be eligible to receive 75 percent of the scholarships.

Corbett’s plan also includes a reform of Pennsylvania’s charter school law and teacher evaluations.

The final legislative format of the proposal has not yet been introduced in the General Assembly.

Corbett’s proposal for an increase in EITC funding and school choice vouchers are two of the main priorities of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania.

Visit www.pacatholic.org for updates and to send a message to your legislators in support of school choice.