Jewish Exponent Reports: Pennsylvania’s $27.66 billion budget, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett minutes before the deadline on June 30, includes a huge boost to an educational funding initiative championed by some Jewish groups. But in terms of funding for critical services, say advocates for the disadvantaged, the same budget, while not quite registering as the worst of times, comes pretty close.
The roughly 10 percent cuts slated for most human service puts Jewish groups and other social services agencies in a bind. As the economy continues to struggle, more people are seeking assistance from government-funded agencies, which are themselves hurting for more dollars.
But first, the elation of those buoyed by the budget’s inclusion of new school-related tax credits.
For years, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, the lobbying arm for the Jewish community in Harrisburg known as PJC, have been pushing for increases to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. That program offers businesses state tax credits to donate to certain public and private schools — via non-profit organizations that serve as intermediaries — and has resulted in millions of scholarship dollars for use by students at local Jewish day schools and pre-schools.
This year’s budget grants their wish in terms of a $25 million boost in available EITC tax breaks, bringing the total to $100 million. As recently as two years, EITC funding was capped at $60 million.
Additionally, the maximum contribution a corporation can make was raised from $300,000 to $400,0000, with the understanding that it will increase to $750,000 next year…
The state budget also borrows an idea from a school choice bill recently introduced by State Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican who represents Beaver County, west of Pittsburgh.
The Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit — not to be confused with the similarly named EITC — will use $50 million in tax credits to facilitate corporate support for “opportunity scholarships” to low-income students slated to attend the state’s poorest performing public schools. The credit is considered a more politically palatable alternative to the voucher concept.