Tax credit program gives school choice to Midstate parents

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Karla Garcia is in fifth grade at Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School.

“Most of my cousins go to public schools because it costs less,” conceded Karla, whose sister Maria is in sixth grade at Harrisburg Catholic.

“My parents always tell me that I’m lucky that I can be able to go to this school and I truly think that I am,” Maria said.

But it’s parents Irma and Carlos, who live in Steelton, that feel fortunate. Their girls get scholarships that help pay the tuition.

“To me, schools in Steelton don’t meet the standards that I want for my kids,” Carlos said. “Me and my wife work really hard to provide our kids the best education that we can.”

The Garcias both work two jobs and still struggle to make ends meet. They are helped by a program that gives businesses tax credits in exchange for contributions. The donated money goes to scholarships for low-income kids from poor performing districts.

Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) is one of its biggest champions.

“I’m a free-market, conservative Republican,” Christiana said. “I believe that the way we make every industry better is competition and choice and giving people freedoms.”

Christiana believes the quality of a kid’s neighborhood shouldn’t determine the quality of their education.

“We would think it would be Draconian and a policy of Communist Russia if our ZIP code told us what church we had to go to, or what college we had to go to, or what grocery store we had to go to,” Christiana said.

The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit is supported by Democrats and Republicans and in the current budget was expanded to $50 million.

“It’s easy to talk dollars and cents but what we really need to talk about is minds and souls and futures,” said Amy Hill with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which has traditionally supported full-bore school vouchers, which have been tried several times in the legislature but have always failed.

Critics of vouchers call it a back-door way to funnel state tax dollars to religious schools. But for Hill, it’s about empowering parents. “Morally and ethically we know parents are responsible for making sure their children get a good education and it’s their job to raise them to be good citizens and so this (tax credit program) just allows them to have a few more choices.”

The Garcias certainly appreciate their chance to send their girls to the school of their choice. They came from Mexico. They both work two jobs. They both want more for their children.

“My kids are the first generation here,” Carlos said. “I want them to have the American dream.”

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