Families urged to apply for tuition aid
State EITC program expanded to $100 million
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which was initiated in 2001, provides businesses in Pennsylvania the ability to divert their state taxes to non-profit scholarship organizations like the Diocese of Pittsburgh's Scholastic Opportunity Scholarship fund.
"The business receives a 90 percent tax credit for a two-year donation," said Dr. Ron Bowes, diocesan assistant superintendent for public policy and development for Catholic schools." They also get a deduction from their federal tax for the gift.
"Since the program began, nearly 40,000 scholarships a year have been distributed which amounts to over $500 million. The Diocese of Pittsburgh has obtained about $3 million a year, which amounts to over $33 million total. The state currently sets aside $100 million for the program in its budget."
Both the diocese and the schools in the diocese solicit businesses for EITC funds, Bowes said.
"Parents must apply for aid and are deemed eligible under the state guidelines," he said. "These grants are distributed based on the amount of funds available and the need identified by the Private School Aid Service evaluation agency."
Based on new legislation contained in the recently passed Pennsylvania budget, there are now what are known as EITC 1.0 and EITC 2.0, with EITC 1.0 being the original plan, Bowes said.
"EITC 2.0, or the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, is a new program which allows businesses to get a tax credit if they donate to a scholarship organization that gives grants to children currently attending under-performing schools or are enrolled in non-public schools in the same school area," he said. "There is $50 million currently set aside in the state budget for the OSTC program.
"This new program requires our SOS to apply to the state to be an approved organization. Secondly, make sure all Catholic schools in our diocese are enrolled with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Then notify and solicit businesses for this opportunity. And finally, help parents work through the process."
The new legislation is designed to help students in the worst-performing public schools in Pennsylvania attend the school of their choice, including Catholic schools within the diocese.
"Parents who reside in under-performing districts must be advised of this program by their school district," Bowes said. "They will be given information as to what to do. Scholarship organizations will assist them."
Parents of students already enrolled in Catholic schools in the diocese need to keep in mind that the money first must be raised from business donors, he said.
"Many current Catholic school students will qualify for OSTC scholarships, and when those students are helped the remaining funds will be used for the other students," Bowes said.
Parents of students who may be enrolled in one of the worst-performing public schools must be informed by their school district of the OSTC opportunity and explain the process necessary to benefit, he said.
Businesses should know that the OSTC program will enable them to help children get a better education, Bowes said.
"This improves our future workforce and saves the taxpayers of Pennsylvania millions of dollars," he said.
Individual Catholic schools first need to enroll with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and then begin to solicit businesses for donations, Bowes said.
"This will enable them to increase enrollment, keep tuition down and build their school," he said.
A family with one child that makes $60,000 or less a year is eligible for the EITC programs, Bowes said.
"You add $12,000 for each dependent, so a family with two children would be $72,000, three children $84,000, etc.," he said.
In the first few days of the program, hundreds of parents inquired about scholarships, Bowes said.
"I truly believe that demand will out-reach supply until businesses begin to understand how wonderful this program is to help children get a better education," he said. "I believe that this program will greatly increase enrollment in our Catholic schools. I also believe competition and accountability will improve all schools in Pennsylvania."
For additional information about EITC, contact Bowes at 412-456-3090.