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Despite budget fight, an effort focused on students

By N. Aaron Troodler

Pennsylvania has long been a pioneer in school choice, providing tax-credit programs that enable tens of thousands of low- and middle-income families to place their children in the most appropriate educational settings. But the state's budget stalemate threw these crucial programs into a dangerous limbo.

Ultimately, Gov. Wolf took the necessary steps to free up the $150 million in scholarship funding from Pennsylvania's unique tax-credit programs, which give pre-K-to-12th-grade students the ability to attend the nonpublic schools best suited to their needs and beliefs. If not for the governor's last-minute approval, this year's funding would have been lost.

The establishment of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) in 2001 and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) in 2012 enabled companies to support school choice opportunities for Pennsylvania children. To date, these programs have yielded approximately $900 million, providing scholarships for more than 50,000 students annually.

This school year's last-minute release of tax credits for schools wrought unnecessary drama for Pennsylvania families. Without the funding, some of them would have been forced to disrupt their children's education by pulling them from their schools and moving them into others less suitable to them.

That this saga had a happy ending was due in large part to the state's school-choice community uniting to advocate for children, as well as strong bipartisan support from the legislature.

For months, the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, along with coalition partners such as the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Jewish Federations, the REACH Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Affiliate of the Council on American Private Education, worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the dire need for the tax-credit programs. Working collaboratively, we developed a cohesive strategy that kept students' and families' needs and best interests at the forefront of the state's agenda.

We helped the public, the legislature, and the governor understand that these programs don't benefit any single community. Rather, they improve educational possibilities for children from a variety of backgrounds throughout Pennsylvania.

The education tax-credit programs are a lifeline for families across the state, and we can't afford to allow government fights to jeopardize these critical revenue streams.

Now that this recent crisis has been resolved, we must continue the spirit of teamwork that brought together so many ethnic and religious groups and school choice organizations to advocate for all of our children and find ways to insulate the EITC and OSTC programs from political squabbles.

One way to achieve this is to push for current legislation that would allow EITC and OSTC tax credits to be used retroactively for applications submitted in the prior calendar year. That would go a long way toward avoiding last-minute havoc due to budgetary and other governmental wrangling.

It is up to all of us to work together not only to protect but also to enhance educational opportunities for every child in Pennsylvania. The EITC and OSTC programs are a crucial means to get a quality education. Each of us has a duty to ensure that our children's future remains bigger than any budget battle.

N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and the Pennsylvania regional director for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the nonpartisan public policy arm of the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish organization.troodler@ou.org

*Article taken from: http://articles.philly.com/2016-02-11/news/70513413_1_school-choice-oppo...

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