242,000 in Pa. eligible for scholarships
Students from families with low-to-moderate incomes in 79 of Western Pennsylvania’s worst-performing public schools are eligible to apply for a state scholarship to attend another public or private school, education officials said Wednesday.
Across Pennsylvania, more than 242,000 students could be eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law this month. Eligibility is based on their schools’ math and reading scores on the 2010-11 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test.
“Students aren’t going to learn in low-achieving schools,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education. “These scholarships are a way to help parents make the decision to remove their children from poor-performing schools.”
To qualify for a scholarship for the 2012-13 school year, a student’s annual household income must be below $60,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent.
Scholarships of up to $8,500 per student will be awarded, or $15,000 for a special education student. The state is in the process of determining which schools want to accept scholarship students.
Funding comes from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit — created under former Gov. Tom Ridge — that businesses receive for donating to the scholarship program.
Carl Barbarino, president of the Penn Hills School Board, believes creating ways for parents to withdraw their children from poor-performing schools is not necessarily the best way to fix a school.
“When a student leaves to go to another school, the district loses the state subsidy it receives for them, which makes it even more difficult to educate the children who stay,” he said. “In many cases, the problems in poor-performing schools is the lack of parental involvement, which this program doesn’t deal with.”
Under the program, districts lose their state subsidy after students are gone for two years, Eller said.
Eller said how districts deal with the exodus of students who qualify for scholarships is not the intent of the program.
“My response to naysayers who think this will hurt public schools is that we are not in the business of schools, we are in the business of students,” he said.
In all, students from 414 schools in 74 districts could qualify for the scholarship.
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarus [email protected].