More than a dozen private religious schools signed up to take in York City students in a 2-year-old program that uses tax credits to fund scholarships.

The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit began last year as a targeted way to help students at failing schools.

For the 2013-14 school year, Ferguson, Jackson, McKinley K-8 schools and William Penn Senior High School in York City School District were all on the low-achieving list.

Students at those schools -- defined as being in the bottom 15 percent statewide -- can apply to a participating receiving school and, if accepted, use scholarships funded by business contributions. Businesses get tax credits for funding the program.

The business gets a tax credit equal to 75 percent to 90 percent of its donation, and the student gets to attend a top school without having to pay out of pocket.

Popularity? The popularity of the program, though, is hard to tell, because the state doesn't have data yet.

York Catholic High School didn't receive any contributions in the past year, and so it didn't accept any students, said principal Katie Seufert.

York Country Day School received two students, said headmaster Nat Coffman.

"It's giving us more opportunity to help kids from failing schools be successful," he said.

Both schools are participating again this year. So are Logos Academy, Christian School of York, St. Rose of Lima


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and others. But no public school districts have signed up.

Pennsylvania had set a $50 million cap to the tax credit program this school year. So far, only $13.2 million in Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits, provided by 300 businesses, has been used, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development, which helps administer the program.

The department "anticipated that it would take some time to get off the ground," said spokesman Steven Kratz.

The similar Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which isn't limited to students from failing schools, also had a slow start and has now grown to a cap of $100 million, Kratz pointed out.

York Catholic has had success with the Educational Improvement program, Seufert said. Coffman said the same, adding he particularly likes the Opportunity Scholarship program because it's for students at failing schools.

"It's not their fault that the school is struggling," Coffman said.

Early issues: Officials at participating schools this year said one hurdle has been getting parents to realize that their child is not automatically enrolled just because a school is participating. They have to get accepted through the standard application process.

Coffman said it's only fair to students. All of his eighth-graders take Algebra 1, for example, and an incoming student not at that level wouldn't have the option of taking a lower level class.

"We're not big enough to do that," he said.

Statewide, 22 schools in eight school districts -- none in York County, same as this school year -- signed up for next year to take students. Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said the decision of whether to sign up is left to the districts.

Dover Area School District Superintendent Robert Krantz said the information on participating hadn't come across his desk this year, while Dallastown Area School District Superintendent Ronald Dyer said it came down to space.

"Some additional students would tip us into needing to add teachers," said Dyer, echoing a concern by several districts last year. "We just don't have that kind of flexibility at some grades and courses."

Parents interested in the Opportunity Scholarship and whose child attends a failing school can contact a participating school for details. More information on the program is also available at www.newpa.com/ under the Funding and Programs section.

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Tax credits

This is the list of York County schools that have signed up to receive Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit students for next school year. Participation does not mean the school has to accept students who apply, however. But it does make the schools eligible to get funding toward covering scholarship money should they accept students. No York school districts agreed to participate this year, or last year, the program's first.

* Bible Baptist Christian Academy

* Christian School of York

* Family Life Ministries International Academy

* Little Hands Nursery School

* Logos Academy

* Missionary Bible Baptist Academy

* Red Lion Christian School

* Shrewsbury Christian Academy

* St. John the Baptist

* St. Joseph

* St. Patrick

* St. Rose of Lima

* The Montessori Children's House of York

* The Shepherds Fold Daycare & Kindergarten

* Tidings of Peace Christian School

* York Catholic High School

* York Country Day School

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com