New legislation is being considered in Harrisburg that would give both low and middle-income students access to more educational options while addressing fears that school choice might hurt public schools.
Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Butler) introduced HB 2468 on Tuesday, June 12, which will expand the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, eliminate the delay for some companies that wish to contribute and create a new category of tax-credit supported scholarships.
The new program, Educational Improvement Scholarship Credits (EISC), would target students in neighborhoods with perpetually underperforming public schools.
In a statement the same day, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia indicated its full support for the House bill.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput called it “a just and necessary piece of legislation that targets the very real educational needs of so many students in the state of Pennsylvania.”
“This bill is the right thing for our children, and we have a duty to protect and enhance their future,” he said. “Education is a key way of doing that, and this bill can bring so many students out of ‘failing’ schools and into environments — including but not limited to Catholic schools — that prepare students for lifelong success.”
Archbishop Chaput said the Archdiocese “urges the Pennsylvania state legislature to pass this bill and to fund it fully at the proposed levels.”
Proposed funding for the traditional EITC program (k-12 and pre-k combined) is $100 million, $25 million more than last year. An additional $100 million would be allocated for EISC scholarship tax credits.
Like EITC, the EISC program would be funded by companies that contribute to scholarship organizations in exchange for a tax credit. These special scholarships up to $8,500 ($15,000 for special education students) are set aside particularly for income-eligible students in the lowest performing 15 percent of public schools.
“The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) fully supports Rep. Christiana’s proposal to create another category of tax credit scholarships for students who particularly need more educational choices,” said Dr. Robert J. O’Hara Jr., executive director of the PCC, public affairs agency of the Catholic bishops and dioceses of Pennsylvania. “The long-standing and highly successful EITC program has a proven track record. EITC scholarships have helped tens of thousands of students attend the school of their choice. EISC scholarships will help thousands more.”
The Christiana bill includes elements of legislation that have already passed in the Senate and the House (SB 1 and HB 1330) and which drew bi-partisan support.
The support of the Archdiocese comes at the close of an academic year that saw Archbishop Chaput honor appeals from hundreds of students and families as he decided to keep four financially distressed archdiocesan high schools open.
But in making his decision in February, the Archbishop urged legislators to enact school choice legislation to prevent future closings of archdiocesan schools.
In recent months, his call to legislators has been joined by Catholics across the Philadelphia region through Voucher Sunday, which saw more than 500 archdiocesan high school students advocating for their education in local parishes, rallies at City Hall and at local high schools.
Other efforts have resulted in thousands of phone calls, e-mails and letters sent to local legislators.
Archdiocesan officials say the efforts will continue as the state legislature approaches the close of its session June 30.
The PCC has supported vouchers as proposed by Senators Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin) and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) in Senate Bill 1, and it has supported expanding EITC.
“For us, school choice is about reinforcing that parents – not the state – are the primary educators of their children,” O’Hara said. “We support legislation that accomplishes that ideal.”
Pennsylvania’s 500-plus Catholic schools constitute the largest provider of non-public education in the Commonwealth. They educate both Catholics and non-Catholics and save the state over $4 billion annually.