In coffee shops and around water coolers, Pennsylvanians everywhere are talking about it – school choice and Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act.
SB 1 does two things: increases the successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) scholarship program and provides Opportunity Scholarship Grants, or vouchers, to low-income students to pay tuition at any school they choose, including a Catholic school if they wish.
SB 1 prudently starts small with vouchers for the poorest students in the most chronically underperforming schools in the first year. In the second year, it expands to low-income students who live in the same neighborhood but already attend another school. By year three the scholarship grants go to low-income families no matter where they live or what school they attend. Many current Catholic school students everywhere will qualify for these vouchers.
People who place their children in nonpublic schools willingly make an enormous financial sacrifice to pay tuition in addition to paying their state and local taxes. They do it because they believe strongly that the nonpublic school is best for their child. In doing so, they save the state and local district the cost of educating their children in the public schools. In Pennsylvania, they save taxpayers four billion dollars annually in education costs.
It is easy to see how school choice benefits low income families; but if allowed to be fully implemented in year three, SB 1 will provide aid to thousands of middle income families as well. Currently the average income of EITC scholarship recipients is around $29,000 for a family of four. The formula for Opportunity Scholarship Grants gives vouchers to families who make a little over $28,000. If all qualified EITC scholarship students received a voucher to pay their tuition, it would free up millions of dollars in EITC scholarships for more middle income families. The qualifying standard for a family of four under EITC would be $84,000 in annual income with the passage of SB 1.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) has been an outspoken advocate of school choice for over 20 years. We believe that providing a quality education for our children is the most critical investment we can make for our future. Supporting families in educating their children is part of our obligation to promote the common good. Parents have the duty and responsibility to provide the best education possible for their children. They have a fundamental right to determine which school best suits their child. The state has the duty and responsibility to support parents in this effort.
Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship Grant and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act is the right choice for Pennsylvania and a smart investment for our future. Phasing in SB 1 is sensible and responsible, but to truly make a positive change in education the legislation must include the provisions of year three and beyond.
Visit, call, fax, write or e-mail your state legislators. Urge them to support school choice and vote YES on the three year phase-in plan of SB 1. Go to http://www.pacatholic.org/current_issues/school-choice/ for details about how to reach your legislators and more information about school choice.
April 2011 PCC Column by A.B. Hill, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.