KYW Regional Affairs Council
By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Pennsylvania has recently doubled the amount of money that goes from the state treasury to private and religious schools, through a complicated mechanism called the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.
Expanding the program at a time when the state has slashed public school funding is infuriating public education advocates.
These are good times at the Agnes Irwin School, an exclusive all-girls school on the Main Line. They're adding a major new building to campus (photo below). And, with the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, contributions to the school's scholarship fund are up, according to director of annual giving Brooke Record.
"What's wonderful about the state this year, they did put more money into the budget," Record tells KYW Newsradio. "We're going to have a banner year and we're really excited about it."
The news is not so exciting at public schools around the region. Philadelphia has cut back on school nurses and security guards. The Norristown school district recently lost 19 teachers. The Chester Upland district has no art or music programs.
And that, to Susan Gobreski of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, (top photo) is the problem with the EITC.
"I'm really concerned any time we make decisions that direct resources away from public education, which all kids have access to, to private education, which all kids do not have access to," she says.
The tax credit reimburses businesses for donations they make to scholarship organizations that subsidize tuition at private and religious schools.
Larry Feinberg (right), a school board member in Haverford Township, finds "Educational Improvement" an odd name for the program. He says that combined with public school cuts, it actually does the opposite.
"It's just one part of a multi-faceted effort to privatize and dismantle public education in Pennsylvania," Feinberg says.
But to Pennsylvania state senator Tony Williams, a champion of EITC, public schools have made their own problems and the tax credit is a way to help at least some kids out of a failing system.
"It's about leveling the playing field and being fair and being honest about what's going on," Williams said recently.
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