HARRISBURG – Declaring it a victory for students and taxpayers throughout the state, Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said the House today adopted his bill to enhance a vital school choice program in the Commonwealth.
House Bill 800
would expand Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program with $100 million in additional tax credits for scholarship organizations. Additionally, it includes an automatic escalator that would increase the funding for these scholarships by 10% in any year that 90% of the credits are claimed, allowing the program to grow to meet demand.
Each year, the largest expenditure in Pennsylvania’s state budget is dedicated to primary and secondary education – more than $12 billion to support every public school in the Commonwealth. When added to local spending, the state devotes more than $30 billion annually to pay for its public school districts. The state’s support of public schools has increased every year since Republicans came into the majority in 2011, going up by nearly 40%, from a $9 billion base.
“In return for this great investment in public education, Pennsylvania boasts many of the best public schools in the nation, providing immense benefit to our students and our communities. But, we known when it comes to education, one size does not fit all. For a variety of reasons unique to each individual, these great public schools are not always the right fit for every child or for every family. This is why the EITC program is performing so well and why it needs to grow,” Turzai said.
The bill would also make other improvements to the program. It would increase the household income limit by $10,000, allowing more middle-class families to benefit from the scholarships. Once a student qualifies, he or she would remain eligible for the program through high school graduation, regardless of changes to family income. And to ensure that more of this tax money goes directly to students, House Bill 800 lowers the amount that can be retained for administrative costs from 20% to 10%.
“In the 2016-17 school year, through the EITC program combined with the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), more than 50,000 students were able to receive a scholarship to attend the school of their choice, but another 52,000 applications were denied due to current limits on the programs’ size and household income requirements,” Turzai said. “There is an equally unmet need among donors, with too few tax credits available for the many wanting to give. As of January 2019, businesses had applied for $180 million in tax credits beyond the current caps. With a limit of $210 million, the program’s annual budget is far too low, accounting for less than 2% of the state government’s appropriation for education.”
The EITC program saves taxpayer money. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association estimates that in the 2016-17 school year, Pennsylvania’s public school districts spent an average of $17,736 for each pupil. When a student chooses to attend a private school, much of that money is going to be saved.
“School choice is not an alternative to a great public school system; it's a necessary complement,” Turzai said.
House Bill 800 now moves to the Senate.
Representative Mike Turzai
Speaker of the House
Pennsylvania House of Representatives