Lawmakers consider bill to expand funding for private education tuition

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide more tax credits to help aid private school tuition.

The Diocese of Harrisburg is supporting this bill, saying it would affect several of its Catholic schools.

“It’s a matter of choice for these parents,” Bishop McDevitt Principal Sr. Mary Anne Bednar said. “They look at the private schools, not just Bishop McDevitt but the other private schools in the area and they say this is where I want my son or daughter to go. This should be an option for them.”

Right now, a local business can give money to a school’s foundation for scholarships and programs. Private schools use the majority of that money to help families with tuition. The state then gives the business a tax credit for those donations.

Those tax credits are limited. House Bill 752 would make more available. Some public school districts support the bill because their foundations can use the tax credits for programs as well. However, there are some concerns.

“There’s no requirement that student demographic information be provided,” Pennsylvania School Boards Association Senior Director of Communications Steve Robinson said. “There isn’t any auditing process, there’s nothing that requires the schools to explain how their administrative costs are being used.”

Public schools, however, are required to give those explanations. Critics say if private schools are up for the same tax credits, they should have to provide the same data.

“Without that accountability, it’s really public money going into a black hole without any proof that the program’s working,” Robinson said.

The Diocese of Harrisburg says taxpayers hold its schools accountable.

“Their choice is really the ultimate accountability,” Diocese of Harrisburg Secretary for Education Fr. Edward Quinlan said. “Because if we’re not delivering, then they don’t come here.”

By helping more people with tuition, Bishop McDevitt says it will indirectly help the public school system.

“If Bishop McDevitt closed and the 750 students that we have went into the public school districts, that would be a burden,” Sr. Mary Anne Bednar said.

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