Schools, child care legislation advances in Pennsylvania as lawmakers try to move past budget feud

Legislation to expand child care tax credits for parents was expected to come up for a vote Wednesday night, with both chambers still in session.

A view from below of the dome of the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa., with blue sky in the background.

File photo: Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on April 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Lawmakers appeared ready to move past a monthslong budget feud in Pennsylvania’s Capitol on Wednesday, with the House and Senate advancing legislation to tie up loose ends and send millions more to subsidize private school tuition.

Legislation to expand child care tax credits for parents was expected to come up for a vote Wednesday night, with both chambers still in session.

After days of negotiations that typically play out before June 30’s end of the fiscal year, the chambers traded a flurry of just-unveiled legislation, each agreeing to concessions in bills that would still need the approval of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Education funding had become a key sticking point in finalizing the spending plan, with the Republican-controlled Senate aiming to expand private school subsidies and the Democratic-controlled House pressing for more aid for the poorest public schools.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Both chambers approved legislation Wednesday to boost subsidies for private schools. In it, Democrats dropped a provision that Republicans had opposed to send another $100 million to the poorest public schools.

In exchange, Republicans agreed to transparency measures sought by Democrats in a program that allows businesses to receive tax breaks for donating money to defray the cost of tuition at private and religious schools.

Under the bill, the state would expand that private school tax credit program by $130 million — from $340 million to $470 million. Republicans also agreed to scale back the amount of money that middleman administrators could keep — from 20% down to 10% — and to require the disclosure of more demographic information about the students who benefit.

The bill also would boost the amount of tax credits — from $12 million to $60 million — for donations that go to private schools that serve a larger proportion of students from lower-income families.

Public school advocates have criticized the program as discriminatory, saying many of the eligible schools cherry-pick the students they want to teach and have policies that discriminate on the basis of religion, LGBTQ+ status, disability or another reason.

They also say it siphons money away from public schools at a time when a landmark court decision found that the state’s system of school funding is violating the constitutional rights of students in the state’s poorest districts

Awaiting a vote Wednesday night was legislation with a key concession to Democrats, an expansion of a year-old state child care and dependent tax credit.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The bill would raise the current child care tax credit from 30% to 100% of the federal child care and dependent tax credit, at an annual cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the state.

The size of the child care tax credit is based on income, but the biggest tax credit would be $2,100 — instead of $630, under current state law — for families making below $43,000 and spending $6,000 or more on child care for two children.

That bill also carries another win for Democrats: $175 million in one-time aid to clean up lead, asbestos, mold and other environmental health hazards in school buildings.

Meanwhile, the bill headed to Shapiro’s desk allows hundreds of millions of dollars to flow after spending months snarled in the Legislature.

That includes more than $300 million for libraries and community colleges, and $100 million in federal aid for school mental health services.

To encourage more college students to become teachers, the bill would create a program to give a stipend of up to $15,000 to student teachers. With numerous schools having difficulty hiring or retaining teachers, the stipends are aimed at easing a hardship for college students finishing up a teaching degree who each must student-teach in schools for 12 weeks without pay.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

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

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal