Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Time for some "Thank You's"

The news regarding the EITC/OSTC reform bill that we have been watching go through the house and senate in Pennsylvania over the past couple of weeks is good.  Both houses passed the bill, the Senate made a few modifications, the house concurred, and the bill is now on the governor's desk, waiting to be signed. 

Generally, the private school constituency in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, is not large or influential when it comes to the legislature.  But because of the cooperative work of several groups that were interested in this particular legislation, mainly ACSIPA and Catholic Conference, the legislation succeeded.  The fact that we were told only last spring that it would be very unlikely for such a bill to go through in the session right before an election, shortened to 10 days, only adds to the excitement of seeing this pass. 

The main provision of the bill will create a "swinging door" between the EITC and OSTC scholarship program.  EITC scholarships are privately funded for students attending private schools, based solely on their economic circumstances as a qualification.  OSTC scholarships have the income requirement, as well as the provision that recipients must reside in one of the state's lowest performing school districts, those which rank in the bottom 15%.  While there is no state funding involved, businesses receive tax credits for their contributions.  Since the EITC program is at capacity, and allocates about 85% of its funds before a single application is received, it was difficult for new businesses to get involved.  But on the OSTC side, about $18 million in tax credits went unused last year.  This bill links the two programs by giving OSTC until January 1 of each year to assign scholarships, and after that, EITC qualified recipients can get the scholarship money. 

For schools like PCS, which have limited access to areas where there are a lot of low performing schools, this is a real blessing.  It will allow us to continue to recruit new businesses for our ETIC program, and ensure that they are accepted, and can access the tax credits.  It will also allow us to allocate unused scholarship money that we already have in our EITC scholarship program. 

ACSIPA played a major role in getting this legislation passed, and in bringing the issues of private education to the legislative table in Pennsylvania.  We spearheaded the effort with the legislature, introducing them to the need last spring, and then utilized our voter voice on line application, which eventually reached over 1,000 contacts, to demonstrate the level of support in the state and encourage state legislators to pass the bill.  They did.

This will also open the door to getting their attention on future issues that affect us.  They now know that ACSIPA represents an active group, and can be a positive force in getting legislative things done in Harrisburg.  Those meetings of the committee that I've attended in Harrisburg each nine weeks, mostly at my own expense, have paid off.  We now have the ear of our Senators and representatives, as well as the governor.  I'm guessing that will come in handy.

Thank you to those of you who were willing to get on voter voice and send a message.  The volume of traffic on that site from Portersville, Butler, Cranberry and Slippery Rock was as high as any region in the state.  If you get the opportunity, thank those legislators for their help.