Pennsylvania corporate tax credit will pay for private-school scholarships [Philadelphia Inquirer]

PA Legislators and Governor Tom Corbett expanded tax breaks to corporations in return for donations made for private school scholarships.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett succeeded in expanding the amount of tax breaks made available to corporations in return for donations made for private school scholarships.

Gov. Corbett, who has pushed hard for a school-voucher program, achieved much of that goal Saturday night through the expansion of a corporate tax credit that for the first time will pay for public school students to attend private schools.

As part of the budget deal concluded just before midnight, the legislature broadened the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC), adding $50 million in tax breaks to businesses that donate money for scholarships to students in the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The new tax credit applies only to students in the attendance area of the lowest-performing 15 percent of public schools, more than one-third of which are in Philadelphia.

The possible impact on the city’s struggling Catholic schools was reflected in a statement from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who praised the legislation as “a strong first step toward what we need to help secure Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and to provide families . . . with real choices in how to best educate their children.”

The budget provides for corporate donations to pay up to $8,500 in tuition for the students to attend private schools. Special-education students can get up to $15,000 in tuition.

Preference is given to low-income students; those in a family of four earning less than $41,348 would get priority, for example. It also gives preference to Philadelphia School District students, as well as students from Delaware County’s Chester Upland District and three other districts – Harrisburg, York City and Duquesne – about to be declared distressed under new state legislation.

The legislation also increased funding for the original EITC program, adopted in 2001, which gives corporate tax breaks to fund tuition only for students already in private schools, by $25 million.

The existing tax credit program will expand from $75 million to $100 million this fall. Of that amount, $60 million will go for private school scholarships, $30 million for educational organizations that offer special programs for schools, and $10 million for pre-kindergarten private school programs.

Legislators found it difficult during the last 18 months, since Corbett began advocating vouchers, to spend money directly from the state education budget for the program. They apparently found it more palatable to instead expand corporate tax credits for the same purpose.

Pittsburgh’s own Duquesne community is among those eligible to receive vouchers under the plan, as well as Harrisburg, York City, Chester Upland, and Philadelphia public schools.

For the full story, including quotes from Philadelphia’s Archbishop, Charles J. Chaput welcoming the inclusion of the new program, and Lawrence Feinberg, co-chair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, voicing opposition to the use of scare state funds for private and religious institutions, visit the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Published July 20, 2012