Part 4: Ongoing Controversies
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KYW Regional Affairs Council
By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania has more than 200 “scholarship organizations” that receive money from the state through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit. Some are small and associated with a single school, but others are large and provide millions of dollars in tuition subsidies to private and religious schools.
You might not expect the region’s most prestigious private schools — such as Friends Central or the Haverford School — to qualify for a tax-funded program earmarked for “educational improvement.” But dozens of these schools are receiving millions of dollars a year as “scholarship organizations,” approved by the state to take business donations that are almost fully subsidized by tax credits.
State senator Tony Williams (top photo) defends the program as similar to the GI Bill.
“A mechanism which was ballyhooed and has educated more Americans than ever is now vilified because people in primary grades now use (it) as relief,” Williams laments.
One of his Harrisburg colleagues, Rep. James Roebuck (below), disagrees, in part because the schools have selective admission and he thinks public money should be used only when there’s equal opportunity for access.
Roebuck is also suspicious of the larger “scholarship organizations” that subsidize tuition at several different schools.
“They talk about opportunity, but it’s not providing opportunity to students, it’s providing opportunity to scholarship organizations,” he says.
The larger organizations can raise hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars and give out hundreds of scholarships with minimal reporting requirements — and allowable expenses of 20 percent of their income.
(An earlier version of this story misstated expenses and payments of the Bravo Foundation. Bravo reported $42,063 in expenses, including a $17,207 reimbursement to the Bravo Group, a for-profit lobbying firm whose president is the sole board member of the Bravo Foundation. The Bravo Group provided $29,422 in in-kind services to the Foundation.)
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