Testimony by Daniel Kraut (Executive Director of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh) in Support of SB.1

Posted on March 23, 2011

Testimony by Daniel Kraut in Support of SB.1
Pennsylvania General Assembly | House of Representatives | Democratic Policy Committee
Pittsburgh, PA | March 23, 2011

On behalf of the Hillel Academy, our 114 families and 232 students I am pleased to submit this testimony in support of SB.1, the Opportunity Scholarship & Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act. I suppose our support for legislation that helps nonpublic schools comes as no surprise. But allow me – allow us – to tell you a little more about why we support it.

First let me tell you about our school. Hillel Academy is a Pennsylvania Licensed Private Academic School providing a Pre-Nursery through 12th grade program. Our children are also part of Pennsylvania’s future. Our families are also taxpayers. And we provide an education that is everything the Commonwealth demands of its own public schools. We do so while also providing a full complement of Jewish studies and community programs. We do so very competitively. Competitive on the cost of that education and competitive in terms of our graduates: 100% of whom attend college or other postsecondary education.

Our families – some of whom are of moderate income – but many of whom are middle class, are struggling mightily to make ends meet: mortgage payments, insurance, food, clothing, the car and then school tuition. 122 students out of our 232 students qualified for an EITC scholarship this past year. We have over 80% of our student body on some form of financial assistance. Our scholarship budget is over $1 million and in this current economic downturn, it has increased by over $200,000 over the past two years. Our families need help. And the EITC program – ever since its inception, has helped us to help them. SB.1 takes a good thing – something proven, something that works, and expands it. Our families – our communities – need this help.

You may know better than I do, but the EITC has become something of a national model. Programs similar to it exist in several states and pending legislation in several states closely mirrors the EITC. That’s because, besides being successful in helping struggling schools and struggling families, the EITC has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for education. New dollars. That wasn’t money anyone took away from someone else.

EITC helps both public and nonpublic schools. Most Orthodox Jews send their children to Jewish day schools. But we understand how important public schools are to Pennsylvania, to our neighbors, coworkers and friends. We pay property taxes to fund schools and we do so gladly. Our community may not use the schools, but we all know that quality public schools are a hallmark of a good community. Orthodox Jews are passionately committed to strong, stable communities.

SB.1 does something else critical as well. It creates opportunity scholarships for low income children in failing schools. That’s important for two reasons. It helps the very poorest among us get a good education. That’s something we all can agree on as vital. And it also will free more EITC funds up to help more struggling families.

For all these reasons, we support EITC, we support opportunity scholarships and we support SB.1. Thank you.