State list of failing schools has 53 in county
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HARRISBURG -- Students at some of Allegheny County's worst-performing schools will be eligible for a new statewide scholarship program, according to a list released by state education officials Wednesday.
The list of 414 public schools in 74 districts represents the lowest-achieving 15 percent of public schools across the state.
The tally, which is based on math and reading scores from the 2010-11 school year, includes 53 Allegheny County elementary and secondary schools. Half of those schools are within the Pittsburgh Public Schools district that closed in June and will not reopen.
Other Allegheny County districts with schools on the list include the Clairton City, Duquesne, East Allegheny, McKeesport Area, Penn Hills, Steel Valley, Sto-Rox, Wilkinsburg, and Woodland Hills school districts.
In Beaver County, Aliquippa's two schools are listed, and 16 schools qualify among five Fayette County school districts.
The largest portion of schools on the entire list is within the Philadelphia City School District.
Students from the affected schools -- whose families earn less than a certain annual income -- will be eligible to apply for scholarships to a private school or to a public school that decides to participate.
Those scholarships will be offered through what's known as the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. The state incentive, which was expanded by $50 million last month, offers credits to businesses that donate to scholarship programs for needy students.
The additional tier approved by lawmakers targets funds to students who attend the state's worst-performing schools. It was viewed in the state Capitol as a compromise approach between the previous EITC program and proposals for a voucher program that would have allowed state funding for public schools to follow a student to a private school.
Families of those students must earn less than $60,000 annually, with another $12,000 allowed per dependent. Maximum scholarship awards for most students will be $8,500, with special education students eligible to receive up to $15,000 for a year's tuition.
The new scholarships are scheduled to be available for the upcoming school year, though with districts welcoming students back beginning in late August, several administrative hurdles still must be cleared.
The state Department of Education must alert school districts that they are on the eligibility list, so district officials can in turn inform parents by Aug. 15.
Reached for comment Wednesday, Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said officials are waiting on more information from the state about how the program will work.
Another challenge for Pittsburgh-area parents is deciphering the list in light of soon-to-be-closing schools.
Seven schools on the list -- Fort Pitt Elementary, Langley High, Murray Elementary, Northview Elementary, Oliver High, Schaeffer Elementary, and Stevens Elementary -- will not reopen this fall. Students transferring from those schools will only be eligible if their new school also is on the list, said Education Department spokesman Tim Eller.
Most of the schools receiving those students also are among the worst-performing, though several -- including Fulton PreK-5, Morrow PreK-5, Westwood K-5 and South Hills 6-8 -- are not.
Once school districts inform parents that their child may be eligible for the scholarship program, families will need to contact a separate scholarship organization to apply.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Community and Economic Development is finalizing its guidelines for businesses seeking to donate to scholarship programs. Those will be released early next month, said agency spokesman Steve Kratz.
Contacts at several scholarship organizations could not be reached Wednesday to comment on how quickly they expect to allocate the new funding to applicants.
Correction/Clarification: (Published July 27, 2012) Duquesne was left off a list in Thursday's editions of failing schools where students will be able to participate in a scholarship program to attend another school.
First Published July 26, 2012 12:00 am