Monday, August 16, 2021

PA: A Different Tax Credit Approach

 One of the great voucher-promotion dodges is the Tax Credit Scholarship. In this, I give a bunch of money to a "scholarship organization," and they use the money to foot some student bills at the private school of their choice (in some states, "their" means both the parents and the donor). It's a great way to dodge any of those annoying (yet rapidly vanishing) separation of church and state rules.

But what if the tax credit money was used differently. What if it was used to help improve a public school?

In Pennsylvania, Representative Stephen Kinsey (D) from the Philly area, has proposed HB 1778, a bill that would create Educational Improvement Initiative Tax Credits. The basic idea is this:

The program shall provide tax credits to entities that provide contributions to educational improvement organizations. Contributions to the educational improvement organization shall be used to provide grants to school districts with low-achieving schools to improve students' academic performance.

The business can contribute up to $750,000 per year and get 90% of that credited against their taxes. They would contribute to operators on the state-approved list, and those would provide one of several state-approved types of school-fixing techniques:

* Targeted tutoring during the normal day intended to increase the student's test scores on the Big Standardized Test.

* Targeted interventions, including after school and/or summer school programs that could include tutoring, mentoring, and family servicing.

* Community partnerships and wraparound programs for students and families. Could include behavioral support or trauma-informed education.

* Other stuff that the local district might propose and the state board approve.

There's plenty not to love here. "Low-achieving school" is defined strictly by test scores, and one of the listed interventions is just test prep--and test prep during the day, so it will pull the student out of some other class. Noir is it clear what kind of organizations will step up to fill these duties, or why those services couldn't be provided in house by the district.

That said, the bill does get two things right. First, if you're going to let companies get out of paying taxes to the state, why not have them make their contributions to help the state's public services instead of, as with tax credit scholarships, taking the money out of the public coffers and using it to benefit private businesses. Second, using data and "low-achieving" designations to target a school for assistance and not targeting it for destruction, privatization, and charter/private school attack. 

So, the bill is not great, but it at least moves in a better direction than much of what we've seen this year. It was referred to the Education Committee last week, so we'll wait and see what, if anything, becomes of it.

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