A $10 million increase for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit has been included in Pennsylvania’s 2010-2011 state budget, raising the amount of funding for the program to $60 million.
The EITC provides state tax credits to businesses that donate to educational scholarship funds, such as the Pittsburgh Jewish Educational Improvement Foundation, administered by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
The EITC is the largest funding source for many Pennsylvania Jewish day schools and preschools, and is used by at least 50 Jewish education programs statewide. About $7 million goes to Jewish schools every year, according to Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, which lobbied for the increase.
Local schools benefiting from the Pittsburgh Jewish Educational Improvement Foundation and Pittsburgh Jewish Pre-Kindergarten Educational Improvement Foundation, both of which are supported by funding from EITC, include Beth Shalom Congregation, Beth El Nursery School, Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools.
Since EITC was introduced in 2001, Pittsburgh day schools have received almost $10 million from the program. Local Jewish nursery schools have received more than $3 million since 2001.
The $60 million figure, while equal to the 2009-2010 budget amount, actually represents a decrease of 20 percent from the program’s 2008-2009 budgeted amount of $75 million. But since the amount of funding had been budgeted to go down to $50 million this year, proponents of the program see the $60 million sum as a victory.
“We were able to stop the bleeding of this very successful program,” said Butler. “It’s a sustainable funding level,” given the difficult economy.
A significant “grassroots effort” can be thanked for the $10 million increase, Butler said.
Local Jewish schools were not adversely affected by last year’s 20 percent decrease in funding, according to Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. While local Jewish schools received $2.8 million in 2008-2009 when the state budget was $75 million, they still received $2.5 million last year with the state funding of $60 million.
“We did pretty well because of our relationships with the [donor] companies,” Finkelstein said. “It really didn’t impact the Jewish community in any major way.”
Still, Finkelstein sees the maintenance of the $60 million in funding as a “huge” victory for all the local Jewish schools.
“We know that maintaining the funding at $60 million was the best possible outcome we could have attained this year,” Finkelstein said.
When parents heard about the possible additional cuts in funding, they busied themselves contacting their state representatives, Finkelstein said.
“It was a beyond grassroots effort that took on a great life of its own,” Butler said, noting that state legislators were inundated with phone calls and e-mails from their constituents in support of the program.
“At the end of the day, it was the local pressure on the legislators,” and “the Jewish community speaking in one loud voice,” that can be thanked for the budgeted increase for the program, Butler said.
The Jewish community, in partnership with the Catholic community, organized a meeting Downtown about three weeks ago, inviting legislators from Allegheny and surrounding counties to hear about the importance of the EITC from the schools’ perspectives, as well as the importance to the community of maintaining parochial school options for families, Finkelstein said.
Sate Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), a proponent of EITC, said he heard that message loudly and clearly.
“I know based on the number of communications from my constituents the significant impact on the lives of the kids in our community,” Frankel said.
Because of the current economic climate, parochial schools in the area have been under significant stress for a number of years, Frankel said. “Last year we fought to keep the program. There were proponents of eliminating tax credit packages over a quarter million dollars a year.”
“The great thing about tax credits is they leverage private dollars, and provide incentives for the private sector,” he added.
The EITC gives tax credits for 75 percent of donations up to $300,000. That jumps to 90 percent if a business agrees to donate the same amount for two years in a row.
Maintaining the $60 million funding for the EITC is “a very successful outcome,” Frankel said. “I view it as a significant accomplishment.”
“We’re celebrating,” said Butler.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)