Written by Otto V.Banks
With the recent coverage on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s budget crisis, parents are understandably concerned about the impact the proposed budget impasse will have on their children’s future.
It is unclear what, exactly, will be the final bill; however, the $30.2 billon spend package that was vetoed by the governor included a nominal increase in aid to public schools but was balanced without new taxes. I applaud the Legislature’s attempt to provide quality in education at a reduced cost, but for parents, I have an important message: you have options.
“Options.” You may think, “I’m on a limited budget – what a kind of option is he talking about?” Well, there are generally three school choice options in Pennsylvania: homeschooling, charter schools and private schools.
In homeschooling, a parent or family member usually serves as the educator. In the traditional model, the homeschooling educator chooses the curriculum and guides the student’s education. If a family chooses a non-traditional cyber school model, the student learns at home but is taught by teachers online – the books and curriculum are provided by the school.
Charter Schools, by definition, are publicly-financed, privately-run schools. They are part of the public school system and required to follow state and federal guidelines in order to receive public education funding.
Finally, there’re private schools. This is the part of school choice that’s nearest to my heart. Not only am I the executive director of the REACH Alliance & Foundation, whose goal is to educate the public on the benefits of school choice, but I am also a product of school choice myself, having graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg.
In television and movies, private schools are often portrayed as elite schools only available to the extremely rich, athletically gifted, or the just plain lucky. I’m sure you know that Hollywood doesn’t always get things right – and many of Pennsylvania’s private schools are filled with students with hardworking, average parents just like you and your neighbors.
Many of these children attend private schools thanks to generous private scholarships, made possible through two state programs—the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) Program. Through the EITC and OSTC programs, businesses donate money to nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organizations. The scholarship organizations take the money donated by businesses and distribute them to families who meet basic income guidelines.
For the 2015-2016 school year, for example, a family is eligible for a scholarship if they make $75,000 per year. Plus, there’s another $15,000 increase in income allowed for each additional dependant. Scholarship organizations may have additional guidelines families must meet.
Since the EITC Program’s inception in 2001 and the OSTC’s in 2012, more than 30,814 companies have pledged nearly $922 million to EITC and OSTC organizations and over 52,916 scholarships have been awarded to Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. The average cost for a private education in Harrisburg, PA is $3,500 for elementary tuition, and $6,000 for high school tuition. Comparatively, the Harrisburg School District spends $17,000 annually per pupil to educate our children.
If you want to learn more about your private school options, please contact the schools in which you would be interested. In addition, there are EITC and OSTC scholarship organizations thought the entire state that award financial scholarships to many types of private schools. A link to the list and contact information of every scholarship organization throughout Pennsylvania can be found through REACH’s website.
Thousands of parents just like you once thought that private schools were out of reach – and now their children are happily enrolled in parochial, military, and boarding schools throughout Pennsylvania. Your child deserves a quality education, and you can help make it happen. Visit the REACH website today at www.paschoolchoice.org