If you have been reading about Senate Bill 1: The Opportunity Scholarship Act (SB1) that is making its way through the state legislature, you may question whether or not children in your community need scholarship aid, or could use a voucher-based school choice program like the one proposed in the bill. Based on my experience as the Executive Director of BLOCS, of one of the area’s largest need-based scholarship programs, the answer is a resounding yes!

I have seen first-hand the number of families in Philadelphia County that apply for scholarship aid each year. I have spoken with hundreds of parents in this area that desperately want a better school for their children, but can’t afford it. I have seen the pain in their eyes when they hear that our organization can’t provide them with a scholarship this year, not because they don’t need it, but because we’ve exhausted our funding.

In the 2011-2012 school year, 5,304 families applied for scholarships through BLOCS in Philadelphia County. Of that number, we were only able to award scholarships to 1,375 children. Many of the families who did not receive a scholarship ended up sending their children to underperforming schools against their own desires.

The goal of SB1 is to end this sad situation. Through SB1 thousands of the lowest-income families in our communities will be able to offer their children the same educational choices that higher-income families have. Through a pilot voucher program, students in lower-income households (earning less than $41,000 per year) who attend schools that score in the bottom 5% on state achievement tests will qualify for the vouchers. In addition, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which provides scholarship funding to low and middle-income families to attend the school of their choice, would increase by almost 50%.

Through SB1:

• Thousands of children in our communities will be able to attend higher-performing schools

• Hundreds of additional businesses will earn tax credits for providing scholarship funding for students

• Public school systems will save money and resources. (The average cost to educate a child in a Catholic School is under $5,000. The average scholarship size provided by BLOCS is $1,000. No public school system in our area educates children for less than $6,000 – so every child that receives an EITC Scholarship saves public schools money.)

The Pennsylvania State Senate has passed SB1 and in order for it to succeed, the General Assembly must do the same. Please, reach out to your State Representative to let him or her know that you support the Opportunity Scholarship Act, and to encourage them to do the same.