Penn. choice scholarship expansion goes to governor

Penn. choice scholarship expansion goes to governor

(Pa.) Lawmakers have sent Gov. Tom Wolf a proposal that would greatly expand Pennsylvania’s school choice program to offer private school scholarships to households earning as much as $95,000 annually.

SB 800 by Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Alleghney, would increase the amount of tax credits available to contributors to the choice scholarship program by $100 million, for a total of $210 million each year.

The bill moved out of the Republican-controlled state Senate this week after winning passage from the House in May, which also has a GOP majority.

It is unclear if Wolf, a Democrat will sign the legislation.

“To increase this to $95,000—that’s not just middle income in Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, during debate on the bill this week. “This program is evolving in a way, frankly, I think unexpectedly and most importantly, embarrassingly.”

Currently, there are 17 states with scholarship tax credit programs. Generally, each allow private donors to receive tax credits in exchange for contributions to a scholarship organization that manages the money and awards the scholarships to eligible students.

The program in Pennsylvania was created in 2012 and originally was limited to students living within the boundaries of low-achieving schools. But Wolf signed legislation last year added $25 million to the total amount of tax credits that could be taken.

According to a 2018 analysis from the Commonwealth Foundation, even with the expansion there were close to 53,000 eligible students turned away because the tax credits had been exhausted.

Since inception, the program has provided more than 570,000 scholarships.

According to the foundation, the average EITC scholarship in 2015-16 was $1,673—which represents only 10 percent of the $16,400 spent per student in Pennsylvania public schools that year.

Under SB 800, the amount of tax credits available would automatically increase by 10 percent when the pool of available credits approaches the cap in any given year—something some critics think will make the program too costly.

Not so, said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte.

“If things change around here and the economy changes and this becomes an unaffordable approach, it just takes a statute of the Legislature to change that, as we did in phasing out the capital stock and franchise tax,” he told reporters. more