ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT’S WEEKLY COLUMN: WHY HOUSE BILL 800 MATTERS

Wednesday, April 10th

The lack of a quality education is a chronic problem for persons in poverty, severely limiting their future.  Once stuck in poverty, it’s very hard for anyone to escape due to the lack of skills needed to secure and hold employment.

This makes education a vital issue for Pennsylvania politics, including our metropolitan region.  While Philadelphia has some of the best performing schools in the Commonwealth, unfortunately, we also have some of the most troubled.

Despite the efforts of many excellent teachers and administrators, many Philadelphia District public schools are on the Commonwealth’s list of most challenged learning environments. The children who attend these schools are overwhelmingly poor and from minority backgrounds. Their chances of finding a way out of poverty as they mature are slim.

Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. Few things are more important to people in poverty than ensuring their children’s education as a path to a better life. If the future of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania depends on an educated, productive public — and it obviously does — then providing every means to ensure a good education system becomes a matter of justice. Prudent lawmakers from both major parties have understood this for years. They need to feel our support in the voting booth and throughout their public service.

The point is this: Proper funding for public schools is clearly important. But experience has already shown that this can’t be the only strategy because it doesn’t work for many of the students who most urgently need a good education. It’s therefore vital that our elected officials serve the education needs of the poor by also supporting school choice.

In recent years, thanks in large measure to bipartisan efforts spearheaded by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, the Commonwealth’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs have made tens of millions of dollars available for school choice in education.  These special programs account for barely half of 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s total state and local spending on public education, but they’ve made a massive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of families.

These successful tax credit efforts fund scholarship organizations that enable students, including those who are most needy, to attend good schools of their choice. Catholic and other non-government schools benefit greatly from these programs — but only indirectly, and only because parents and students freely choose them because of their quality. It’s also important to note that many of the students in our inner-city Catholic schools who benefit from the EITC and OSTC programs are not Catholic. Our schools welcome them as part of our Gospel commitment to the common good.

Public support for EITC and OSTC is key to ensuring that these valuable programs, which benefit so many poor families, continue and grow.  As Speaker Turzai recently noted:

 

“Past accomplishments have allowed Pennsylvania’s program to remain a national leader in many respects, but we are at risk of falling behind other, more proactive states – especially those that have established automatic escalators.  With this type of provision, the budget allocation for a tax credit scholarship program grows each year until it can meet demand. To that end, I have introduced House Bill 800, which will ensure that we continue to offer our children the greatest access to school choice in the country.”

 

If passed into law, HB 800 will dramatically increase EITC funding, establish an automatic annual escalator for such funding, and greatly expand the number of families and students eligible for the program.  HB 800 is not simply a “good idea;” it’s a huge service to the young people and families of our state.  It deserves the support of the Catholic community here in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth.

Please contact your state representative and state senator this week, and let them know that you support HB 800 as a matter of principle on behalf of families, students, and especially the poor.

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See this link to contact your elected officials by phone or email.