Students at Pa. failing schools could qualify for scholarship

Pennsylvania’s Department of Education has put together a list of the state’s 414 low-achieving schools. It represents bad news for Philadelphia. Not only do Philly schools make up 40 percent of the failing list, but those are 75 percent of the schools in Philadelphia.

The approximately 242,000 students in those schools become eligible to apply for scholarships of up to $8,500, or up to $15,000 for special education students.

The scholarships will be funded through a $50 million tax credit approved by Pennsylvania lawmakers last month.

The scholarship program’s backers make a basic pro-school choice argument. “Students only have one chance each school year to have access to educational programs that will help them become successful in post-secondary life,” says Tim Eller with the state Department of Education.The program is funded by donations — kind of. Businesses do donate money for tuition toward private or even other public schools further away. The businesses then turn around and take the amount donated right out of their taxes — up to the annual program cap of $150 million. The state, technically, never handles a dime.But Jerry Jordan of the Philadelphia teachers union says public schools lose the money they would get for each student.”This is a program that’s taking dollars away from the public schools of Pennsylvania, after a substantial budget cut of almost a billion dollars from Pennsylvania last year,” Jordan says.A New York Times investigation in the spring found evidence of lobbyists involved in direction of the scholarship money should go.The Department of Economic and Community Development says funds will be fairly distributed to families on a first-come, first-served basis.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.