Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has vowed to continue the state program of tuition tax credits for private and public schoolchildren if he wins re-election to a second term in November.
Speaking to a receptive crowd at a private Main Line home on March 21, Corbett thanked those gathered for pushing hard to bolster the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, known as EITC, which gives tax credits to businesses that provide educational scholarships to help pay private school tuition.
The governor also expressed regret that he hadn’t visited Israel during his first term and said his “goal is to get to Israel in a second term.”
The meeting was organized by the advocacy center of the Orthodox Union, an umbrella for Orthodox congregations around the country. It was the group’s second local gathering for gubernatorial candidates in advance of the May 20 primary and Nov. 4 general election. The group hosted U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) at its first meeting in December.
Since Corbett’s election in 2010, his approval ratings have declined, with 65 percent of voters expressing disapproval of the governor in recent polls.
His perceived vulnerability has led to a wide field of competition. He is being challenged in the Republican primary by Bob Guzzardi, a Jewish attorney and businessman from Ardmore. And five contenders remain in the race for the Democratic primary. (See next page.)
At the O.U.-sponsored gathering, standing before a campaign sign that read: “Less Taxes, More Jobs,” Corbett outlined what he touted as his economic accomplishments, noting the difficulty in tackling the $4.2 billion deficit that he faced when he took office.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy” to eliminate the deficit and still adhere to a pledge not to raise taxes, the governor said. “And it wasn’t.”
He insisted that despite his opponents’ claims to the contrary, he did not cut funds to education. “We are now investing more money in public education than at any time in history.”
He added that 40 percent of his newly proposed $29.4 billion budget goes toward education, with $11 billion invested in K-12 education.
Moving forward, he said his multipronged approach to education would focus on post-secondary programs, including technical training programs, and implementing a new teacher evaluation and merit pay system to reward teachers who do well and remove those who don’t.
When it comes to education, “it doesn’t always require more money,” Corbett said: it’s about “investing wisely.”
The issue of day school affordability has long been a priority for the Orthodox community, which has lobbied hard in Harrisburg, along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, for the state tuition tax credit programs.
Under the EITC, which was enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2001, the state currently allocates $100 million in tax credits to businesses participating in the program. That level represents an increase of $25 million during Corbett’s term.
Corbett thanked his audience for their support of the initiatives, which also include the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, or OSTC, which was enacted in Harrisburg in July 2012. The OSTC provides scholarships to students who live in areas with the lowest performing schools to attend a private or a different public school.
Elliot Holtz, a co-chair for Pennsylvania’s O.U. advocacy, said his group is “tremendously appreciative” of the governor's support for these school choice programs. “The need to improve education today, and specifically the hardship of affording day school tuition, requires forward- thinking ideas and programs such as EITC and OSTC.”
But the governor didn’t respond favorably to a newer educational issue on the O.U. advocacy group’s agenda — universal, publicly funded preschool programs that would benefit private preschools as well.
In response to a query from Maury Litwack, the O.U.’s director of state political affairs and outreach, Corbett said: “I don’t think we’re anywhere near the discussion of universal preschool.”
Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Philadelphia Federation, praised Corbett for being the first Republican governor in the country to restore some of the food stamp benefits for low-income residents that were cut in the Farm Bill passed by Congress.
“By investing $8 million in energy assistance, $300 million in food aid has been preserved,” said Schatz, who attended the Corbett event last week and was among those leading the lobbying effort for the program known as “heat and eat.”
“Not only does this help those in need — and seniors and the disabled are mostly affected by these cuts — but it also provides a boost to the economy as these dollars are spent at grocery stores.”