Legislative Affairs – Reach Out to Your Legislator
Since 2001, when the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program was passed, private schools have enjoyed the benefit of a steady growth in EITC funding, thus enabling schools to extend their access to students who otherwise could not attend tuition paying schools. EITC began with a $30 million allocation, and today it sits at $185 million. According to the REACH Foundation, more than 44,600 students received scholarships in the 2017-2018 school year, and more than 575,500 since the program’s inception. EITC has enjoyed bi-partisan support for these last two decades through Republican and Democratic gubernatorial leadership, but there is a growing concern that the results of the 2020 elections could impact the annual family income qualifications thus enabling fewer families to be eligible.
Over the last years there has been growing opposition to “school-choice.” Although school-choice opposition usually refers to Charter Schools and vouchers, the sentiment now spills into other educational arenas that are perceived as detrimental to the public school system.
In September 19, 2019, the Washington Post reported the following:
Meanwhile a recent news release issued by the (Pennsylvania) governor’s office said he wanted to stop the drain of public resources from traditional public school districts that instead are going to these private schools: “Pennsylvania must help school districts struggling with the problem of increasing amounts of school funding siphoned by private cyber and charter schools.” Calling these schools “private” angered charter supporters, who say they are public because they are publicly funded (though not accountable to the public in the same way school districts are).
Referencing cyber schools and charter schools as “private” may have been a Freudian slip, but it could also suggest the Governor’s association of these as similar to private schools.
Although private schools do not directly drain money from public school districts, it has been suggested that students who leave public school districts to attend private schools represent another form of “siphoned” resources—meaning the loss of quality students who can raise a school’s state mandated tests results, which are critical for funding allocations.
Similarly, there has been an ongoing controversy in the state over student athletes who leave public schools to attend private schools. Public school proponents believe that private schools recruit students to excel at athletic competition, so much so that there has been a push by public school districts to legislators and PIAA to separate public school and private schools athletic competition. This is another type of protest to “school choice” options for students!
This summer, Speaker Mike Turzai introduced House Bill 800, which nearly doubled the state’s total allocation of EITC funding by adding $100 million to the fund with no allocations to public schools. Additionally, the bill raised the level of annual income for families who might be eligible to receive EITC scholarship money.
This House Bill 800 was vetoed by the Governor (but a $25 million increase was negotiated in the budget) with a strong statement from him about educational equity in our state education system. HB 800 stirred school-choice opposition. In a June story on WHYY, the Philadelphia public radio station, reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent roused school-choice critics when she reported on how few private schools receiving EITC funding actually enroll students from low-income families. The article was meant to remind people that the original intention of the EITC bill was to aid educational choices for low-income families, whereas today families well above “low-income” level qualify for EITC funding.
With some anti-school choice sentiment being raised in Harrisburg, I recently asked PAIS’s educational lobbyist, Dennis Giorno of Malady & Wooten, whether he could see this impacting legislation. According to Giorno, depending on the swing of the 2020 elections, the “school choice” opposition could affect EITC funding. Although it is speculative at this point, one way that EITC could be impacted is by lowering the annual income qualifications for families eligible to receive EITC funding.
So, what can School Heads do in advance to be certain that however the political pendulum swings in Pennsylvania that such a narrowing of eligibility is not proposed? PAIS believes that it is vital for School Heads to build a relationship with their local legislators. The first step is to identify the legislator of the district within which your school resides.
I am pleased to announce that PAIS is planning an opportunity for School Heads to hear from Dennis Giorno about steps that can be taken to develop a closer relationship with your local legislators. This will include how to reach out to your legislators, what type of information it is important to share with them about your school, and how to maintain an ongoing relationship with them. An announcement about the date and time of this session will be announced within the next month.