Religious schools fare best under new state’s ‘voucher lite’ program

by Evan Brandt, The Mercury, 8/26/12.  The first of two parts

POTTSTOWN — As the state program which labeled Pottstown High School an “under-achieving” school gears up for the new school year, an analysis shows that Christian schools make up vast majority of those which have signed up to accept the scholarships the program provides.

Called “vouchers lite” by some and adopted during this year’s budget process in Harrisburg, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program allows businesses to make donations to non-profit organizations, for which the businesses receive a tax break of as much as 90 percent of the contribution.

This chart shows how the new state scholarship program covers tuition to area private schools, but not to public schools, whose tuition is set by state formula.

The non-profits — which are called Educational Scholarship Organizations and which must be certified by the state — in turn use those donations to cover their costs and to provide scholarships to lower-income students who live within the attendance area of a school the state has declared to be “under-achieving.”

That “under achieving” designation is based solely on the high-stakes standardized test called the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA.

To qualify for a scholarship this year, those students must come from families with a household income under $60,000.

Of the 384 schools that had been approved by the state for the program as of Tuesday, only five public schools — two in Clarion County and three in Schuylkill County — had signed up to accept the lower-income students from the “under-achieving” schools.

Three-hundred forty, or fully 89 percent of the schools on the state’s list, had some religious affiliation, according to a Mercury analysis….

Continue reading at The Mercury, 8/26/12.

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