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More Tax Credits Available To Establish School Choice

More public school students in Pennsylvania will be eligible to receive scholarships to attend the school of their choice, private or public, as a result of legislation that was included in the 2012-13 budget signed Saturday by Governor Tom Corbett.

The budget measure includes creation of a new program funded by tax credits, the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Act, as well as the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC).

The new initiative creates a scholarship tax credit program for children from low- and middle-income families who attend the lowest-performing 15% of public schools in the commonwealth.

Both the new program and the EITC, which began in 2001, are funded through contributions by approved companies to a scholarship or educational improvement organization. The businesses can receive tax credits up to 75% of their contributions up to a maximum of $400,000 per year, but Tim Eller, spokesman for the State Department of Education, said there are differences between the two.

"Students throughout Pennsylvania can participate in the traditional Education Improvement Tax Credit, which has been on the books for a little over 10 years now," Eller said. "It does not focus in on low performing schools. However, this new program does specifically target low performing schools."

According to Eller, nearly 45,000 students received scholarships through the EITC program during the 2010-11 school year. "Within the [EITC] program, there's a sub-program that allows the dollars to go into public schools to provide outside of the curriculum services like before or after school tutoring," Eller said.

The education department spokesman denied that the home school districts of the students who receive scholarships to attend other schools are being hurt financially by losing the students.

"Students are making the choice of where they want to attend school and parents are involved in that decision making," Eller said. "So I don't think it's a factor of hurting a school. I think it's a factor of what's best for the student."

The budget legislation raises the EITC cap from the current $75 million to $100 million that companies can receive in tax credits for their donations to the scholarship programs. Up to $50 million can be contributed by businesses to the nonprofit organizations for scholarships under the new program, the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Act (EOSA) beginning this fall.

An estimated 430 schools in Pennsylvania rank in the bottom 15% in academic performance. Eller said the department will issue a list of those schools by the end of next week.