By Al Gnoza
Pennsylvania Catholic Conference
We at the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference once again applaud the job that all of our schools did over the past several months to continue to provide quality education to our students across the state. We thank teachers, students, parents and administrators for their flexibility and sacrifice.
As we look ahead to the upcoming school year, the plan is starting to take shape over how instruction and extra-curricular activities will shake out. We at the PCC are also joining education leaders in the dioceses in looking at the financial picture and how much money will be coming in from the state and federal governments.
Every year as the state budget is being debated, we keep our eye on how much will be available through the EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit program) and the OSTC (Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program). These programs enable residents and businesses to donate to scholarship funds for non-public schools in exchange for tax credits.
PCC Education Director Sean McAleer says both the EITC and OSTC were level funded from last year. While we’d always like to have more, we are happy there were no cuts. The EITC allocation is $185-million and the OSTC allocation is $55-million. Non-public schools will get $135-million of that.
The amount of money coming from the federal government is a different story. Many of you may remember the pleas that were sent out from the PCC and from within your respective dioceses to reach out to legislators to make sure that Catholic and other non-public schools would get an equal share of money awarded in COVID-19 relief through the CARES Act. We started this campaign when we got word that the PA Department of Education was looking to funnel more of that money to public schools than to non-public schools. That flew in the face of intentions set forth in the CARES Act, which called for an equal share to be given to ALL schools.
Well, the battle is not over, but it appears that the U.S. Department of Education is backing down to demands from state officials and that non-public schools will get a lesser share. We estimate that we could lose as much as $47-million!
We have stressed to both state and federal officials that Catholic schools will feel the crunch of the pandemic and resulting shutdown just as much public schools–maybe more so, when you take into account that non-public schools are heavily dependent upon tuition. Job losses have hit a wide range of families across Pennsylvania and many of them may be unable to continue to afford tuition in the coming year.
Despite the recent turn of events, there is still a long way to go and there is much that we can still do to work for our rightful share of the money. The good news is that our schools will still get at least some federal money. The PCC and Catholic education officials across the state are always working to keep costs down, knowing full well that it is not always easy making those tuition payments.
We promise to continue those efforts and to keep you posted on our progress.
[Al Gnoza is the Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.]