Enrollment period closing for scholarship tax breaks

Enrollment period closing for scholarship tax breaks

Pennsylvania businesses interested inboosting Jewish education while receiving a significant tax break have until July 1 to apply to participate in the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTC).

This year’s contributions, administeredby the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, totaled $4.4 million and provided 800 needs-based scholarships to students of local Jewish day schools, local Jewish prekindergarten programs and other Jewish schools across the state.

“This was our best year ever,” said Sally Stein, manager of corporate and government relations for the Federation, adding that the EITC money is critical for the success of Pittsburgh’s local Jewish education programs.

Students at Pittsburgh’s three Jewish day schools — Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools — were awarded a total of 421 scholarships; 221 scholarships were given to students attending Jewish prekindergarten programs within the day schools, the Jewish Community Center and area synagogues.

EITC and OSTC are Pennsylvania tax credit programs that reduce a company’s tax liability by allowing it to contribute to state-approved scholarship organizations.

To be eligible, a company must be authorized to do business in Pennsylvaniaand subject to specific state taxes.

Because of an OSTC requirement that students live within the boundaries of a low-performing school, the Federation also awarded 162 scholarships to students living in other areas of Pennsylvania, said Stein.

“This is the first time we gave scholarships outside of Pittsburgh,” she explained.

“We didn’t have a need in the community because of the residency requirements of the OSTC program. Most of the families that attend our Jewish day schools reside in neighborhoods with higher-performing schools.”

While a few OSTC scholarships were awarded to students in McKeesport, Stein said, the rest went to students in Allentown, Scranton and Harrisburg as well as Philadelphia and two of its suburbs, Bryn Mawr and Bala Cynwyd.

Businesses may contribute up to a maximum of $750,000, with tax credits being equal to 75 percent of the contribution amount for a single-year commitment or 90 percent for a two-year commitment when participating in the K-12 scholarship program. Contributions can be made through the prekindergarten program up to a maximum of $200,000, with businesses receiving a 100 percent tax credit for the first $10,000 and a 90 percent credit for each additional dollar.

Businesses may contribute to qualified charitable organizations registered with the Department of Community and Economic Development. The Federation has created two such organizations: the Pittsburgh Jewish Educational Improvement Foundation and the Pittsburgh Jewish Pre-Kindergarten Educational Improvement Foundation.

In addition to supporting Jewish day school and preschool education, businesses, for the first time, can also opt to help provide for Holocaust education in public schools, Stein said.

“We already provide some Holocaust education in public schools through the Holocaust Center’s educational programming and through Teen Screen, a part of JFilm,” she said, adding that money designated by businesses through EITC for Holocaust education will help fund both those programs.

The Teen Screen program reaches more than 3,500 local students a year, exposing them to films at venues outside of the school setting, to enhance their understanding of Holocaust history, social justice and tolerance, according to Kathryn Spitz Cohan, executive director of JFilm.

“I’m so proud of Teen Screen,” Spitz Cohan said. “It’s just an amazing program. Film is such a powerful medium, especially when it pertains to educating students in an alternative way, because a lot of times we’re not learning best through a textbook. And we greatly appreciate a teacher’s willingness to take kids out of the classroom and into this alternative way of learning.”

EITC applications for new business participants are to be submitted on July 1. For information, contact Sally Stein at 412-992-5243 or sstein@jfedpgh.org.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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