Gov. Tom Corbett expanded school choice in Pennsylvania Saturday night when he signed into law a bill that called for increased funding for the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit and established a new, similar tax credit.

EITC 1.0, as school choice advocates called the popular tax credit program established in 2001, will see $25 million added to the program, for total funding of $100 million.

EITC 2.0, the result of the passage and signing of House Bill 761, will be funded at $50 million and dispersed in scholarships up to $8,500 for students in the lowest performing 15 percent of public schools in the state. Special education students can receive up to $15,000 in tuition assistance.

Corbett approved the amended the education tax code, which accomplished the school choice measures, and approved the Commonwealth’s new budget just hours ahead of the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., had vigorously encouraged the Catholic community to fight for school choice especially on the heels of last winter’s announcements of closures of some Catholic grade schools and a reprieve of closures of Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese.

“Today is an important day for students across Pennsylvania and the hardworking parents and guardians who sacrifice so much to provide their children with an education that will prepare them for the future,” the archbishop said in a statement. “Our state legislature has taken the first critical step in giving all students a chance for lifelong success by giving families a real educational choice with the passage of House Bill 761.”

He called the expanded EITC programs “a strong first step toward what we need to help secure Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and to provide families across our Commonwealth with real choices in how to best educate their children.”

Archbishop Chaput thanked local legislators in the Philadelphia region who “acted upon the unprecedented outpouring of support for this legislation by Catholics in the Archdiocese.”

“Whether it was our youngest voters – in our high school students – passionately advocating for their education in our parishes or student rallies at our high schools or thousands of phone calls, e-mails and letters sent to local legislators, the Catholic voice was heard in Harrisburg and action was rightfully taken,” he said.

In particular, he thanked Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, Sens. Anthony Williams, Dominic Pileggi, Jeffrey Piccola and Vincent Hughes, and Reps. Michael Vereb, James Christiana, Michael Gerber, Brendan Boyle, Kevin Boyle, House Speaker Samuel Smith and House Majority Leader Michael Turzai.

School choice backers had called for vouchers to non-public schools for years. But the intensity of their advocacy has been sustained at a high level since the Catholic school closures, or near closures, of last winter.

In recent months Archbishop Chaput’s public push for school choice had been joined by Catholics across the Philadelphia region through Voucher Sunday May 20, which saw more than 500 archdiocesan high school students advocating for their education in local parishes, plus a rally at Philadelphia City Hall May 30 and rallies at local high schools.

Catholics also made thousands of phone calls and sent e-mails and letters to local legislators.

Despite the efforts, diverting public education funding to non-public schools through vouchers proved to be difficult for the state legislature to pass.

The approach of amending the education tax code accomplishes a similar goal while avoiding the concept of vouchers.

Businesses can claim a tax credit on certain state taxes up to $400,000 this year and up to $750,000 next year by making donations to scholarship organizations such as BLOCS (Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools).

EITC funds may be used by parents to pay school-related fees, such as activity fees, not just school tuition.

Visit the web site of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference to learn more about passage of school choice in Pennsylvania.