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PA’s Scholarship Tax Credit Programs: A Lifeline for Thousands of Students

Posted 02.27.2019

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is home to 500 school districts, 3,287 traditional public schools, and 1,719,336 students. Most families (~90 percent) choose to enroll their children in traditional public schools. After all, on average, Pennsylvania’s public schools are high-spending (Pennsylvania is the 10th highest spending state in the country) and mostly high-quality (Pennsylvania’s overall National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are 14th best in the nation).

But families don’t live in mathematical averages. Averages mask outliers and averages overlook the fact that one size does not fit all. The School District of Philadelphia’s own school quality metric identifies 90 schools, serving 53,000 students, “in need of intervention.” In these schools, only 6 percent of students scored proficient on the Algebra Keystone Exam, and the graduation rate is an appalling 66 percent.

The reality is that some families are dissatisfied with their local school district and, if they can’t afford to move to a better district or pay for private school tuition, they have very limited options.

The good news is that Pennsylvania has two scholarship tax credit programs that make the option of tuition-based schools more viable for families. The bad news is that there are thousands of students who are not able to access the scholarships because funding for the programs is capped.

This report will provide an overview of Pennsylvania’s scholarship tax credit programs, explain how they are a win for taxpayers, families and policymakers, and make the case for increasing the cap by $100 million. 

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