Testimony of Orthodox Union
In support of SB.1: Opportunity Scholarship & Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act
Pennsylvania Legislature | The Senate | Committee on Education
Harrisburg, PA | February 16, 2011
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:
The Jewish people have earned their reputation as the “people of the book.” For millennia Jewish communities maintained and supported educational institutions, long before their host countries and societies thought the issue one of importance. Jews even risked their lives to educate their children, operating schools in the Nazi ghettos and under the ever watchful eyes of the Communist secret police.
So it should come as no surprise the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, representing member synagogues and Orthodox communities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh respectfully submits this testimony in support of SB. 1, the Opportunity Scholarship & Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act.
At the outset, we note that the Orthodox Union is proudly supportive of public education, and we believe every school whether it be public or private should be excellent. As well, we note, our support for this legislation is, in part, parochial. The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) has provided thousands of scholarships to moderate and middle income families who struggle to provide a quality education for their children. Particularly in the economic climate of these past few years, but even during the boom years in the early part of the century, EITC has been a lifeline for families in need.
SB 1 thus expands this assistance in two key ways. First, in increases the amount of money available to EITC to a total of $100 million. As well, it puts EITC into the School Code so that schools, families and organizations like ours need not fight every year for needed scholarship funds to be appropriated.
We note too that EITC is a national model, having been copied in other states and with several states having pending legislation that looks conspicuously like EITC. At the Orthodox Union, we believe EITC is a model for other reasons as well, beyond its success at helping those in need. It allows businesses a vehicle to partner with and connect to their local schools and communities. It would be nice if everyone gave charity because it was the right thing to do. But this program, like others here in the Commonwealth incentivizes businesses to be good corporate citizens. In addition, because it has a public and nonpublic school component and because the funding comes out of the general fund and not the education budget, this program has worked to increase the monies available to both public and nonpublic schools alike, rather than pitting them one against the other.
SB 1 also does one other thing. It creates a low income voucher program. It is modest, and affects only those making 130% of the poverty limit or less. It is also implemented over three years in a gradual way. That makes them more than good policy; it makes them fiscally responsible.
This scholarship program will help our community in two ways: first, by helping the poorest among us to attend a quality school. Second, by taking care of the children who are in the very lowest income bracket, this frees up EITC funds other families struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children’s education.
As we noted, there are parochial reasons for supporting this legislation. But the Jewish ideal of “tikkun olam” – repairing the world – is an overarching moral and philosophical underpinning to all that we do. For that reason alone, the Orthodox Union supports this crucial piece of legislation. This program and legislation are tied directly to the Jewish ideal of helping others in need. We must fund and find for others that which we value so very much for ourselves and our families. If we value a good education for our own children, we can’t be satisfied until every child, regardless of their religion, has one too.
Passing SB 1 will help ensure that all children in Pennsylvania get the education they rightly deserve. The Orthodox Union and its thousands of families in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania respectfully request an immediate and favorable report of SB 1.
Deputy Director of Public Policy