OUR KIDS ARE two of the lucky ones.
Across Philadelphia, tens of thousands of students are forced to attend schools that fail to prepare them for success in life. But thanks to the state's Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), our children were awarded scholarships that allow them to attend high quality private schools. Without scholarships, the odds were against them; today, they're on the path to college.
But Gov. Wolf is taking away their opportunity to succeed. Under his direction, the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is refusing to allow the OSTC and its companion program, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), to go forward until there is a budget in place. Even though state law makes clear that this program should operate independent of the budget, our children and more than 40,000 others across Pennsylvania may lose scholarships, all for political gamesmanship. Unless Gov. Wolf changes his mind, our kids will be the real losers.
Since June, the governor has been clear: He won't approve a budget that doesn't substantially increase what the state spends on education. A delay is fine, he says, because the money will eventually flow to schools. We applaud him for his leadership on increasing education funding.
But here's the thing: OSTC and EITC aren't part of the budget. It is a separate program funded by voluntary contributions from businesses around the state. These contributions must be made by the end of the year. For the program to run, DCED must send letters to businesses that say they're eligible to donate to the program. If that doesn't happen, then businesses won't be able to make their donations by the end of the year, and the money - $150 million, exclusively used to improve education - will be gone for good.
It makes some sense that the governor is holding firm in his negotiations. He has some numbers in mind for the budget and wants to stick to them.
But, here are some other numbers that matter. Fewer than one in five Philadelphia fourth-graders passed national reading and math assessments. Only one in 10 Philadelphia high school students earn a college degree. By refusing to send out these letters, the governor will steal the promise of something better from our kids and thousands of others in the city. From the very people who helped elect him.
OSTC and EITC are supported by nearly everyone. In addition to scholarships, it funds organizations supporting public schools, including Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the United Way. In May, over 80 percent of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill to increase funding for the programs.
Maybe Gov. Wolf can wait for a budget deal, but tens of thousands of students cannot. If businesses don't know they are allowed to donate to EITC/OSTC, the money disappears. And it will take our kids' shot at a great education with it.
All we want to do is for our kids to stay in schools we love. Governor, please don't sacrifice their futures for political leverage.
Lubin L'aventure and Seyna Mushington are the parents of two Philadelphia school children who have been awarded OSTC scholarships.