By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Pennsylvania has expanded a controversial tax credit program that subsidizes private and religious schools. The expansion doubles the amount of state money going to non-public schools.
Both supporters and opponents of the program refer to it as the equivalent of a voucher program.
In fact, a leading proponent, state Senator Anthony Williams, says tax credits were a way of getting around opposition to vouchers.
"There were Democrats who said, 'Tony, I would support vouchers for children trapped in failing schools if it didn't come out of the general fund.'"
The $150 million that funds Educational Improvement Tax Credits comes from the Treasury, but critics say the impact is the same.
State Senator Williams says the tax credits are about choice and providing the same choices to all students.
"People who have money make decisions. They either move to a better school system or pay for a better education."
Opponents say the problem is, the tax credits don't have that equalizing effect. They go to corporations that make donations to scholarship funds, but the funds provide a fraction of what private school costs. The tax credits are used for donations to funds that give up to $8,500 in scholarships. Tuition at local private schools can top $28,000.
They say the smaller program that's been around for ten years has been mired in politics and have often merely reimbursed students already enrolled in non-public schools.
Shelley Yanoff of Public Citizens for Children and Youth says, with the state slashing public school funds, the tax credits are like a reverse Robin Hood.
"What happens is children across the commonwealth are left with less."
Susan Gobreski of Education Voters says public money goes to private concerns.
"Money that's spent on private education is money that is not being spent on public education and right now there have been drastic painful cuts to public schools across Pennsylvania."
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