Help struggling students
Share with others:
Ask Daniel Kraut about the parents of his 232 students and he'll say "They're great people, but they are struggling to make ends meet. They aren't rich. Some are poor. Some are middle-class families."
Mr. Kraut is CEO of the Hillel Academy in Squirrel Hill, one of several local Jewish day schools. Despite the challenges some of his families face, 100 percent of Hillel's seniors graduate in four years and all go on to college or other postsecondary education.
This is why Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1, the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act, is so crucial to communities across the state, including here in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Kraut's families, like many across the commonwealth, struggle to keep up with the mortgage, car payments and myriad other bills. Add on tuition at the Hillel Academy, and it's tough.
According to Mr. Kraut, 80 percent of his families are on scholarship. And due to the economic downturn, scholarship requests at Hillel have soared 20 percent over the past two years. Standard charitable giving probably would never be able to cover tuition scholarships for all these young people.
This is why the EITC program, which gives businesses sizable tax credits for donating to private, religious or public schools, has been a godsend.
Together, all the Jewish day schools in Pittsburgh and the community's Jewish Federation have raised much-needed funds for scholarships since the program began providing tax incentives in 2001.
By law, scholarships can't go to anyone who is wealthy -- there's an income cutoff. Yet at Hillel, over half the students qualify for EITC tax-credit scholarships.
Budget cuts in recent years have made it more difficult, though. EITC took a $15 million hit two years ago and last year was maintained at that level.
S.B. 1 would do two crucial things.
First, it would build on success. Pennsylvania's EITC program, one of the first in the nation, has been copied and mimicked across the continent. Why? Because it works. Millions of dollars have been raised for public and private education without diverting money from the state education budget.
No wonder it has garnered support from Democrats and Republicans. Both Gov. Tom Corbett and his opponent in the gubernatorial election, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, have touted their support for the program.
S.B. 1 would take what works and help make it work better by increasing the funding for the EITC to $100 million.
S.B. 1 also would focus on failing school districts and the primarily low-income families who live in them. It would provide Opportunity Scholarships (vouchers) so that low-income children in failing districts could attend better schools.
How sad that the civil rights struggle of the 21st century here in the United States is to ensure that poor children aren't denied an education and thus, denied opportunity. How sad that middle-class families also struggle to provide their children with good schooling.
We at the Orthodox Union are proud to support S.B. 1. We hope Pennsylvania's policy makers will as well.
First Published April 28, 2011 12:00 am