$100 million more for PA’s “secret school tax”
From our friends at Education Voters of PA:
The PA House Education Committee passed what appears to be a top education priority for many lawmakers this year: a massive increase in taxpayer-funded school vouchers that benefit wealthy families.
These lawmakers are not prioritizing an additional $100 million to help schools meet extensive safety needs. They are not prioritizing an increase in basic or special education funding $100 million above what Governor Wolf proposed to reduce property tax increases and/or boost resources for students in Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts.
No. The priority of the many state lawmakers is to ensure that often-wealthy families receive benefit from an additional $100 million in taxpayer-funded vouchers to subsidize their children’s private education.
On Monday, April 29, by a party-line vote of 14 to 9, the House Education Committee passed House Bill 800. This increases funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) school voucher program by $100 million, to a cool $210 million in EITC vouchers for private and religious school students plus $50 million in Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) vouchers. A built-in 10% annual increase in funding would bring the EITC total alone to an eye-popping $544 million in just 10 years.
The EITC/OSTC programs are, as The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board noted, a “secret school tax,” because every dollar that pays for a voucher is diverted out of the state budget, and unavailable to meet other needs. If HB 800 becomes law in the 2019-2020 budget, $260 million that could have been used to increase funding for public schools, or to reduce property tax increases, will instead pay for students’ private school tuition bills.
Read our “Myth busting tax credits in the EITC/OSTC programs” to learn more about these programs.
In addition, data demonstrate that the EITC/OSTC programs subsidize attendance at elite, expensive private schools, many of whose students come from the most affluent Pennsylvania families. In 2014-2015, just 23 of Pennsylvania’s most exclusive –and most expensive (average tuition $32,000) – private schools concentrated in and around Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties received $11.2 million in EITC/OSTC funding, more than 9% of the total during that year.
HB 800 increases the opportunities for wealthy families, many already sending their children to private school but paying for it on their own, to benefit from subsidies at the expense of PA taxpayers. If HB 800 becomes law, a family with two children and an annual income of more than $125,000 would be eligible for vouchers for their children.
Making matters worse, there is no public auditing process to ensure that EITC/OSTC income limits are enforced. There is also no policing of side deals, through which families make contributions to EITC/OSTC in exchange for reduced tuition for their own children. And how do we know that increased taxpayer funds don’t just hold down regular tuition paid by the richest PA families? We don’t—that makes EITC/OSTC another public subsidy for the 1%.
Funding for K-12 private school vouchers via the EITC/OSTC programs has more than quadrupled in the recent years, increasing from $35.7 million in 2010-2011 to $160 million in 2018-2019. These increases have not been accompanied by corresponding increases in financial or academic transparency and accountability for these programs. Instead, PA taxpayers know virtually nothing about how more than $1 billion in diverted tax dollars have been spent on K-12 private/religious school vouchers since 2001. They also know nothing about the academic outcomes of students who have received these vouchers.
Another expansion of EITC/OSTC tax credits for K-12 vouchers for wealthy families is unconscionable in a state that underfunds public schools so much that rich districts with their own resources have a third more funding per student than poor. It is a further departure from the basic principles of equal educational opportunity and quality public education for all – and a further consolidation of “separate but unequal” schooling using taxpayer dollars.
BASD Proud Parents is strictly pro-public education. We are an independent group with no affiliations to the BASD school board or any political parties. Our goals are to help parents stay informed about educational policy discussions and to facilitate ways for any of us who would like the chance to have our voices heard, to get more involved in those policy conversations.