Magazine article Momentum

Sidestepping Impediments to School Choice

Magazine article Momentum

Sidestepping Impediments to School Choice

Article excerpt

Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Allows Businesses to Support Scholarship Organizations

The long road to school choice in Pennsylvania began in 1991 with the founding of the Road To Educational Choice Alliance (REACH). This grassroots organization coordinated school choice efforts for decades. The battle over vouchers raged in Harrisburg where it was termed "the most contentious issue in the capital's history." In 1991, the Wall Street Journal declared "that Pennsylvania may become the first state in the nation to enact a true educational choice program."

Little did they know that this prediction would come to fruition, although, 21 years later.

OSTC Program

In July 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). This new tax credit allows businesses, who pay state taxes, to divert their taxes to scholarship organizations that provide grants to eligible students residing within the boundaries of low-achieving public schools. A low-achieving school is defined as a public elementary or secondary school ranking in the bottom 15 percent of all schools based upon combined math and reading scores on the PSSA state test.

A family with one child whose income is $90, 000 a year or less and who lives in the above defined low-achieving school boundaries is eligible. For each dependent, the income level is increased by $15, 000, thus $105, 000 with two children, $120, 000 with three and so on. Businesses can give up to $400, 000 annually and get a 90 percent tax credit for a two-year pledge. Currently, $50 million is set aside in the state budget for this fiscal year ending June 30.

Since the passing of the legislation, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has been flooded with requests for OSTC aid. Families who already attend Catholic schools, but who live in the boundaries of an underperforming school, are eligible, in addition to families seeking new choices. Most parents plead for help to get their child into one of our schools as soon as possible. For example, one mother wrote, "I have always wanted to send my child to a Catholic school, but could never afford it. Please send me information about the new scholarship program because I desperately want to send my child to St. Malachy School."

EITC Program

Although it was difficult to raise money from businesses in the early months of the program, that was only because the state already has an Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which has provided the Diocese of Pittsburgh more than $35 million since 2001. …

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