HARRISBURG – Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) today said Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of House Bill 800 is a step backwards for education in Pennsylvania.
“The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) complements our public education system in Pennsylvania,” Turzai said. “One size does not fit all students. Pennsylvania families should have the choice that best suits the individual needs of each child. These scholarships are life-saving for every recipient. We should be striving to ensure that these scholarships are available to every family who needs them.”
Pennsylvania dedicated a record $32 billion in state and local taxes to funding public education in the 2018-19 school year. State appropriations for K through 12 public education have increased by 25% over the past five years and are set to be increased further in the upcoming budget.
“The notion that we are neglecting our public schools is disingenuous,” Turzai said. “Rather, we have increased investments in public education K-12 to record levels. What we have neglected to provide is adequate support for those families who are looking for an alternative choice.”
House Bill 800
would have expanded Pennsylvania’s EITC program to help meet the overwhelming demand among students and parents. The speaker noted that 50,000 scholarship applicants were turned away last year because of limits on the EITC and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. This year, $140 million in tax credit applications were waitlisted due to program caps.
These tax credit scholarship programs are just a small portion of Pennsylvania’s overall record level of spending on education, representing only 0.5% of public school funding currently, or 0.8% with the expansion that House Bill 800 would have effected.
House Bill 800 included an escalator clause that would have guaranteed these programs could continue to grow to meet demand. The automatic escalator was hailed by the Wall Street Journal in two editorials, May 2 and June 12, 2019, supporting the bill. The May 2 editorial praised its potential to meet the needs of “Pennsylvania children who have been shut out of the state’s school choice program.” The May 2 editorial further stated: “It wasn’t for lack of willing donations: Many businesses applied …” On the escalator, the editorial continued: “Florida enacted its tax credit scholarship in 2001, the same year as Pennsylvania, but Florida added an automatic escalator in 2011 … Florida now awards twice as many student scholarships as Pennsylvania and the average amount is significantly higher.”
The bill also would have increased the household income limit by $10,000, allowing more middle-class families to benefit from the scholarships. Further, once a student qualifies, he or she would remain eligible for the program through high school graduation, regardless of changes to family income.
“We think as many families as possible should be able to obtain these scholarships,” Turzai said.
While the EITC and OSTC are modest expenditures on the state level, they create substantial savings for Pennsylvania’s 500 local school districts. The average per-student spending in the state’s public schools is $18,000 – the ninth highest in the country. Pennsylvania is the only state with a major school choice program that is also in the top 10 in per-student public school spending.
“We are unique in this country in living up to our obligation to provide a great public school system, as well as a robust school choice program. These are complementary, not contradictory, goals,” Turzai said.
Each scholarship student who would otherwise attend a public school saves their home district some portion of that money. Even under the lowest reasonable estimates for school savings and alternative public school attendance, school districts will save $3,000 for each scholarship the state provides.
An aggregate analysis estimates that Pennsylvania has saved at least $3 billion since the EITC program began in 2001, with most of those savings realized by the school districts themselves.
“House Bill 800 was a statement of our conviction that parents, grandparents and other guardians know best what the right learning environment is for each of their children. In addition to providing great public schools, we have an obligation to enable parents to choose an alternative when that is what suits the need of their child. This is especially critical for parents who cannot afford that alternative on their own.
“I am immensely disappointed that the governor has left those parents empty-handed through this veto,” Turzai said.
Representative Mike Turzai
Speaker of the House
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Christine Goldbeck
717.787.7977 (office) 570.205.0736 (cell)