Bridge Foundation, St. James Alumni

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC), and in the case of nonpublic schools, can make all the difference as to whether a family can afford to pay their children’s tuition.

On March 17 at “The Doghouse,” the St. James High School Alumni Association headquarters in Eddystone, the Harrisburg-based Bridge Educational Foundation announced the awarding of $182,050 in EITC scholarships to the families of approximately 180 students from 22 schools in Delaware and Montgomery Counties. Included in the list were three Catholic high schools and 17 Catholic elementary schools.

The EITC scholarships, which were pioneered by Pennsylvania in 2001 and are now copied by many other states, are funded mostly through tax credits given to businesses that donate funds to approved organizations that in turn award scholarships. {{more}}

If a company chooses to participate for a single year, it receives a 75 percent tax credit against a donation. If it commits for two consecutive years, the tax credit is 90 percent.

While inspanidual companies are limited to a $300,000 donation, larger conglomerates with subsidiary corporations can multiply their contribution by making donations through each of the subsidiaries.

At this particular ceremony the donating companies were Malady & Wooten, CSX Transportation, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Williams Transco Pipeline and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan.

While Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) has the most prominent EITC scholarship program operating in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Bridge Educational Foundation, which was established in 2005, does not focus on a single area. It has awarded scholarships in 52 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

“EITC is very important to us,” said William J. McCusker, president of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield. “We have nine families who would not be able to send their children to our school without them.”

The scholarships are need based, and Cardinal O’Hara alternates between receiving them through the Bridge Foundation and Bravo Foundation, also headquartered in Harrisburg. “They are both very helpful, with really nice people,” McCusker said.

“We’ve given almost $13 million to date,” said Natalie Nutt, a founding member and executive director of Bridge.

The total amount of funds available for tax credits is dictated by the state budget, and although it has been cut in recent years, under the current budget as proposed, it will increase to its high of $75 million.

“Hopefully it will be even a little higher,” said Nutt, because of bills that have been introduced in Harrisburg.

It was not an accident that the St. James Alumni headquarters was chosen as a site to announce the scholarship recipients. A diocesan high school for 53 years, St. James closed in 1993, a victim of the Catholic population shifting away from the city of Chester. Yet its loyal alumni never forgot the quality education they received, and they consistently raise large sums of money for scholarships to other Catholic schools.

In recent years this has been largely accomplished by working in conjunction with the Bridge Educational Foundation.

“This group has really mobilized, and they are so involved with helping other kids, it’s fantastic,” Nutt said.

Over the years, the St. James alumni have contributed $548,000 to Catholic schools, in addition to contributing to a number of other charitable endeavors and putting some money away for the future in an endowment fund, according to Michael Ritz, alumni president. This year alone they have given 26 scholarships of $2,000 for a total of $52,000.

Most of their money from the Bridge Educational Foundation comes from CSX, which has been so impressed by the efficiency of the St. James Alumni operation that the company has contributed $50,000 a year for the past five years.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.