Tax Credit Touted As Aid For Pa.’s Failing Schools

Beaver County Times

A Pennsylvania state lawmaker whose proposal for a voucher-like tax credit that is designed to help students leave the state’s worst schools said Monday that those schools would benefit, too.

Rep. Jim Christiana told House Education Committee members that, unlike conventional vouchers, his plan would be financed by businesses that contribute toward scholarships that help youngsters in the schools with the lowest academic performance to transfer to private schools or better public schools.

Tax money allotted for the students’ education would not travel with the students to their new schools. Rather, tax money allotted for the students’ education would remain at their former schools, increasing per-pupil spending and helping to reduce class sizes there, Christiana said.

“This will not take a single dime out of the operating budgets of school districts” or the state education budget, the Beaver County Republican said.

Rep. James Roebuck of Philadelphia, the committee’s ranking Democrat, argued that it makes no difference whether the cost of the tax credits are subtracted in advance or collected and then refunded to businesses. Christiana’s bill would still reduce the amount available to help the many Pennsylvania schools that are struggling financially, he said.

“The credits are tax dollars, are they not?” he asked Christiana. “They’re money that they were paying in taxes that they’re choosing to divert in some way.”

As part of a budget deal struck last week with Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, GOP legislative leaders have tentatively set aside an extra $75 million to double the appropriation for the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and incorporate in it a scaled-down version of Christiana’s proposal.

Funding for public education, meanwhile, would remain roughly at this year’s level.

Many details remained up in the air five days before the current state budget is set to expire, but Christiana’s proposal has gained popularity among school-choice advocates including Corbett, who campaigned on the issues in 2010. The governor was criticized last year for failing to do enough to win support for a Senate-approved school-voucher plan that collapsed in the House.

The 11-year-old tax credit program rewards businesses that contribute money, property or services to nonprofit groups that offer scholarships to students from low- and middle-income families seeking to transfer to private schools or to public schools outside their home district. Qualifying contributions also may be made to nonprofits that provide grants for innovative programs at public schools.

Christiana’s proposal would mark the first time that schools’ performance — a key element of vouchers — would determine eligibility for the scholarships.

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