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As Pennsylvania faces continued budget challenges for the coming fiscal year, every dollar matters, particularly for students in our public schools. Yet, legislators are trying to tinker with the budget in a way that would negatively impact public schools across the commonwealth. House Bill 250 would add $50 million (to $175 million) to the existing Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and $25 million (to $75 million) to the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.

The state is challenged to close an estimated $716 million revenue on this year’s budget, and is looking at a growing structural deficit at nearly $3 billion. Now is not the time for the General Assembly to redirect tax dollars into programs that largely benefits private, nonpublic schools.

These programs shift limited state funds away from public school districts, by siphoning valuable dollars from the general fund, via tax credits that could otherwise be used for public schools. As a result, millions of dollars will not be available to fund the basic education subsidy that goes to school districts to provide instruction and educational services for the 1.8 million students in public schools.

Further, the EITC/OSTC programs fail in transparency and oversight. They are unaccountable because there is no mechanism in place to evaluate the performance of scholarship recipients. In fact, the OSTC law prohibits state administrators from requesting any information related to academic achievement, making it impossible to measure the effectiveness of the program.

The OSTC program is offered to students in low-achieving schools, defined as the lowest performing 15 percent of elementary and secondary public schools based on just one measure of a school’s success, the state PSSA and Keystone Exam scores, and do not look at other components of the state’s School Performance Profiles for public schools.

Worse, students don’t need to actually attend these schools to receive the scholarships. They just must live within the attendance area. As a result, tax dollars could go to pay for private school tuition for students who have never set foot in a public school, completely ignoring the students the program was intended to help.

A newly released report on school district budgets from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials shows that public schools continue to struggle financially. Adequate funding of basic education funding line items should be of primary importance more so than an expansion of the EITC and OSTC programs. Legislators need to adequately fund the public schools they are stewards of rather than redirecting tax dollars to an unaccountable program funding private and parochial schools.

— Eric Wolfgang is president of the Central York School Board. He lives in Springettsbury Township.

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