New PA Budget Benefits Jewish Day Schools

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Students rally in support of EITC and the OSTC programs, as well as for additional security and health funding at nonpublic schools. | Photos provided

For families at Kohelet Yeshiva, scholarships obtained through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program — the main revenue source for the school’s scholarships — are “life-changing,” Kohelet Yeshiva Executive Director Stuart Gasner said.

“I don’t even know what they would do” without the aid, he said. “Their children wouldn’t even be able to attend this institution. Families recognize that, without this generous program and without the school being able to offer scholarships through the generosity of our community, there’s no way that a lot of our families would even consider our school.”

Forty percent of Pennsylvania Jewish day school students qualify and receive scholarships through the EITC or the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.


These programs incentivize businesses to donate to approved school scholarship funds, such as the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, to receive a tax credit. Families can then apply and, based on eligibility and the scholarship monies’ availability, receive scholarships to attend nonpublic schools.

The 2018-2019 Pennsylvania budget increases the EITC program by $25 million, for a total of $160 million, and continues funding the OSTC program at $50 million.

“We see numbers go down and we see numbers go up, and we see regulatory changes that hurt low- and middle-income families, and then some years it is helpful,” said Arielle Frankston-Morris, director of Teach PA, a part of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Advocacy Network. “Thankfully, this was a year that really helped Jewish education.”

The budget also includes new regulatory changes to these programs. The maximum annual household income to receive scholarships has increased from $75,000 to $85,000.

“These programs offer educational access for low- and middle-income families,” Frankston-Morris said. “It’s really leveling the playing field for students from different communities and different socioeconomic backgrounds and giving kids an opportunity to be at a school that is best suited for them.”

The new budget also makes school safety a priority, she said. The Office of Safe Schools will offer a $6 million grant program for school police officers, of which $2.6 million will be prioritized for nonpublic schools.

“We fought tooth-and-nail for inclusion of nonpublic schools in security increases this year, and we are very happy that there’s an increase in that program,” Frankston-Morris said. “Lots of our schools will be applying for a grant this year.”

The budget continues to include about $88 million for services to nonpublic schools and about $27 million for textbooks, materials and equipment for such institutions.

Getting these budget changes has not been an easy battle. Frankston-Morris said Teach PA met with legislators, had legislators come visit schools and sent a delegation of 200 parents, students, educators and community leaders to Harrisburg on May 2 to rally for the tax credit programs, as well as for additional security and health funding.

“We’re thrilled at the state and very thankful to the state, to the governor and the legislature for implementing this change, for improving the increase,” said Ellen Horowitz Matz, director of the Educational Tax Credit programs at the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools. “It’s very expensive sending kids to private schools. It’s extremely helpful, and the price of a private education, from both the parents and, in certain instances, the schools when they decide to provide that private education, it gets more and more challenging every year.”  

For the 2017-2018 school year, the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools awarded more than $6.5 million in needs-based scholarships to more than 790 students to attend local Jewish day schools. The foundation also awarded more than $780,000 in scholarships to almost 250 preschool students.

At the moment, the foundation does not know how many more students it will be able to award because of the tax credit program increases.

For the coming school year, the foundation is considering applications of families who have already applied. The foundation will work with families who decide now to enroll their child in a Jewish day school on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s sort of done on an individual basis, if there are funds available and if the school feels the family would be eligible,” Horowitz Matz said. “If a family is thinking about attending one of our Jewish day schools or preschools, they should talk to the financial officer at their school. Don’t do it one way or the other ever. Always talk to the school directly.

“We want families to know that if they’re interested in sending their child to Jewish day schools, we want to help them. They should always place a phone call.”

Horowitz Matz noted that the foundation does not meet the entire need for Jewish day school scholarships in the community. The foundation does not have enough money to completely fund families who are eligible, and some families who are not eligible may still need scholarships.

“The cost of a private education is a chunk for families to bite off,” she said. “It’s hard, any private school.”

After eligibility is determined, the foundation works closely with schools, such as Kohelet Yeshiva, which make recommendations as to the actual awards.

Gasner said that Jewish day schools, families and donors are thankful the tax credit programs exist.

“The recipients are incredibly appreciative to the schools and to the donors that they know that their children are able to receive a high-caliber Jewish education, a modern Orthodox Jewish education for their families,” Gasner said. “I’ve heard the word ‘life-changing’ many times. It puts children on a path to set them up for success, to open up doors for the future.” 

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

1 COMMENT

  1. It pays to march. On several occasions recently, a group of us local educators marched in Harrisburg to up the ante of state participation in funding our mostly under-funded state schools, both public and parochial. Thank you to Gov. Wolf and those in the state capitol for doing what is best for our deserving children.

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