Thanks to a new wrinkle added to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Program, parents and caregivers will have even more options when they decide to transfer a student out of a school on the persistently violent or underachieving schools list.
According to PDE Secretary Ron Tomalis, every school not currently on the list of low-achieving schools can now apply to be a receiver school for those wishing to transfer. With 414 schools throughout the commonwealth — more than 130 in Philadelphia alone — on that list, it is conceivable that thousands of students will be seeking a transfer.
School principals can apply via a link on the department’s website.
“The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program is an example of a public/private partnership where the business community recognizes a need in our communities and schools and steps up to meet that need,” Tomalis said. “It is my hope that Pennsylvania’s high-quality schools will now step up to do their part to ensure that every student is provided with a world-class education.”
According to the PDE, Students who reside within the attendance boundaries of one of the 414 schools on the low-achieving list are eligible to apply for a scholarship if their household’s annual income does not exceed $60,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent member of the household. Recipients of a scholarship may apply the funds to tuition costs and school-related fees at another public school outside of their resident district, or a nonpublic school that has signed up to receive students. Funds may not be used to attend a career and technology center, or brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools.
Pennsylvania businesses that donate to opportunity scholarship organizations are eligible for a tax credit through the program.
“This historic program cannot succeed without the participation of Pennsylvania’s best public and nonpublic schools that are willing to open their doors to the students trapped in educational entities which are not meeting their academic needs,” Tomalis said.
“Pennsylvania is home to many extraordinary public and nonpublic schools. Thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program and the generosity of the business community, eligible students in low-achieving schools can now experience the very best educational opportunities the commonwealth has to offer.”
The tax program has had a fair amount of controversy attached to it. Many critics, including the influential School Boards Association of Pennsylvania, panned the program as a “stealth voucher program,” and state Representative Dwight Evans — usually a staunch proponent of school choice — voiced concerns about the plan’s true nature, and funding of its expansion.
“It’s actually disappointing, because I really thought more attention should be paid to schools that need real help,” Evans said, noting that the financial aspect of the plan has yet to be properly vetted. “The state released its report, with schools like Martin Luther King Jr. High School and Germantown High School on it, and to me, they’re basically taking that [helping] element from schools that really need it.”