Since 2012, when Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput rescinded the threatened closing of four Catholic high schools after a group of developers, executives and foundations promised to raise money and take a more active role supporting the schools, a private group that helps families pay tuition has more than tripled its yearly scholarship grants through Pennsylvania's Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program and related grants,
The program allows companies to redirect part of their state taxes to private, independent and parochial schools, so they can provide tuition assistance to any student who applies, until the money runs out.
The group Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools started as an Archdiocese-controlled, lay- and ecumenically-led, corporate-backed effort in 1980. After separating from the Archdiocese in 2010, BLOCS raised an average $3 million a year in each of the next three years through corporate grants of the state tax program. In 2012-13 the total more than doubled, to $7.7 million; in 2013-14, the total reached $10.1 million; the group is on track to raise $15 million or more this year, says executive chairman Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien says the increase is a result, not of an increase in state tax break availability, but of "a better-educated business community" that has increasingly signed up for the program.The money has been collected through more than 100 employers, listed at http://IAmABLOCSscholar.org/donors/ .
Some familiar companies are on the list -- Aramark, Peco, PNC, TD and Beneficial banks. Many are smaller -- Allied Wire and Cable, First Republic Bank, Folsom Tool.
Last year's haul allowed BLOCS to aid 5,500 students, at an average of nearly $2,000 per student, up from 3,100 grants the year before. The group still had to turn more than 8,000 applicants away, O'Brien says.
"We expect donations to increase this year and next thanks to increased interest by business owners in the tax credit programs, as well as continued support from the Pennsylvania legislature," he told me.
Separately, state House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and some other legislative leaders are pushing for an increase in the statewide ceiling for the tax credit program, currently $150 million a year, to $250 milllion.
Why should anyone who's not Catholic, or a supporter of independent schools, want to see more state taxes turned into tuition grants?
Why would Pennsylvania want to offer more tax breaks for the benefit of parochial and private school students, when it's having a tough enough time keeping up with public school teacher and pension expenses?