As Catholic school tuition increased this fall, about 150 students so far are getting some extra financial help through the new state Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program.
Through its own scholarship organization, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has raised about $446,000 from businesses that receive state tax credits by making donations to approved scholarship organizations.
About $100,000 has been committed to local students so far, and more is expected to be allotted in the next month or so.
The tax credits are designed to provide money for students who live within the attendance area of the state's lowest performing schools to attend higher performing public or nonpublic schools.
The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits were among the programs highlighted Thursday at the diocese's annual back-to-school news conference.
At the news conference, school officials announced Catholic school enrollment this fall is about 20,000, a drop of about 800 students or 3 or 4 percent from last year.
The enrollment figure counts students in pre-kindergarten through high school. High school enrollment has remained steady around 4,000 students for some time. The drop is primarily in the lower grades.
The average tuition for a Catholic student who is the first child in the family is about $3,600 in elementary school, an increase of $150 from last year. In high school, it's $9,500, an increase of $550.
In the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, state law permits awards of up to $8,500 for a regular education student and $15,000 for a special education student,
Ronald Bowes, assistant superintendent for policy and development for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the local awards have been between $400 and $2,000. He said they were given to the neediest students who also often receive awards from other sources as well.
But no matter how needy, he said, everyone pays at least $100 so there is a sense of ownership.
The new awards went largely to students already enrolled in Catholic schools, some of whom enrolled because they were hoping to get the aid, he said.
Mr. Bowes said the students' home districts include Aliquippa, Clairton, Duquesne, McKeesport Area, Penn Hills, Pittsburgh, Steel Valley, Sto-Rox, Wilkinsburg and Woodland Hills.
Mr. Bowes had hoped to raise more money for this school year and continues to solicit additional donations.
The new program is off to a slow start statewide. The state allocated $50 million for tax credits sought by June 30 this year.
However, only $16.99 million was requested. Another $50 million in tax credits is being offered this year.
The state also has a longer standing tax credit program, Educational Improvement Tax Credits, which does not restrict scholarships to students who would be assigned to low-performing schools.
That has generated more money for the diocese. Mr. Bowes said $4 million in EITC scholarships was available this school year in the diocese.
Most of that money has been awarded. Some remains available for emergencies.
Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955. First Published September 12, 2013 12:15 AM