House Education approves bills to provide CTE graduation flexibility and increase funding for EITC/OSTC

House Education approves bills to provide CTE graduation flexibility and increase funding for EITC/OSTC

Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, February 6, 2017/Categories: News and Views

Meeting for the first time Monday for the 2017-2018 legislative session and under the helm of new Majority Chairman Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster), the House Education Committee took up a number of bills, including one that would provide graduation flexibility for career and technical education (CTE) students and another increasing the limit for the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC).


Both bills are sponsored by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny).


With regard to the CTE graduation bill, House Bill 202, the legislation passed the House overwhelmingly at the end of last session, but was not moved through the Senate in a timely manner before the Constitutional end of session.


Monday it once again passed the House Education Committee unanimously.


Ultimately, the bill would create flexibility by implementing one of four recommendations from a recent Pennsylvania Department of Education study on Keystone Exams: that the NOCTI or NIM test—a standardized test geared toward CTE students—be used in place of the traditional Keystone Exams for these students.


“The simple fact is we need people choosing an educational path that gets more people into trades and this is going to take down one of the impediments,” said one of the bill’s proponents, Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill).


The bill would only become applicable should Keystone Exams once again become a graduation requirement. Currently, the exams are under a moratorium set to expire in the 2018-2019 school year.


As to the Keystone Exams, House Bill 202 would also remove the statutorily required development of seven new Keystone Exams in the areas of English Composition, Algebra II, Geometry, US History, Chemistry, Civics and Government, and World History.


The EITC/OSTC bill, however, did come with some debate and negative votes.


As we reported in late January, the bill—House Bill 250—would increase the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program by $50 million, to $175 million, and would increase the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program by $25 million to $75 million.


“Families who want better school choice opportunities but cannot afford them have found the educational improvement and opportunity scholarships to be positively life-changing,” said Speaker Turzai when the bill was first introduced.


“Parochial schools and other private schools have played a responsible role in helping to educate our children along with our public schools. These tax credit scholarships supplement the billions of dollars we spend on public education in providing opportunities for our youngest citizens.”


Though the bill passed by a vote of 20-8 Monday, several Democrats on the House Education Committee expressed concern that the legislation would result in less in the state coffers for traditional public schools at the benefit of private/parochial schools, in contravention of the legislature’s requirement to provide for a thorough and efficient system of public education.


“As Pennsylvania faces a continued budget challenge for the coming fiscal year, every dollar matters, particularly for students in our public schools,” said Minority Chairman James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia). “Now is not the time for the General Assembly to redirect tax dollars that benefit private, non-public schools.”


Others, however, saw the programs become a success in their district and encouraged the growth of the tax credits.


“It’s something that the business community has robustly supported,” said Rep. Tom Quigley (R-Montgomery). “The public schools in my area have used this money for building projects, for special projects that they’ve done within their schools.”


The bills now move to the full House where the earliest they can be up for final passage is Wednesday.