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August 20, 2014 By:
In Shift, Wolf Voices Support of Some Educational Tax Credits
Tom Wolf caused some angst among advocates of Jewish day schools when, during his Democratic primary campaign for governor of Pennsylvania, he questioned the tax credit programs that help families pay for a private education.
But now, he has expressed support for one of those programs — even benefiting from it, the Exponent has learned. He is not, however, revealing his position on a second tax credit program.
Wolf, who overwhelmingly won the May primary and is now leading Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in the polls, earlier this month said that he would not interfere with the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.
The program, which the state enacted in 2001, allocates $100 million annually in tax credits to businesses that fund educational scholarships to help pay for private school tuition or attend another public school outside of a student’s district. Another state initiative, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, operates in a similar manner.
That stands in contrast with some of his statements before the primary, when Wolf said that, if elected, he “would take a look at all of the state’s tax credits to ensure we are not just rewarding special interests.”
Responding to queries from the Exponent and the Orthodox Union during the campaign, Wolf said he “did not think that public tax dollars should be diverted from our public schools to create a back-door voucher system. I will take a close look at both of these programs and examine how they impact public education funding.”
Wolf’s own kitchen cabinet supply company, the Wolf Organization, has benefitted from the EITC program in the past, donating $60,000 between 2001 and 2005 and receiving $54,000 in tax credits, according to records obtained by the Exponent from the Department of Community and Economic Development.
When asked about these donations and Wolf’s position on the credits, his campaign responded with a statement in support of the EITC.
“The EITC program has been an effective tool to invest in education and support student learning in a multitude of educational settings,” a Wolf campaign staffer stated in an email to the Exponent. “While Tom will not interfere with the EITC program, ensuring that every student has access to a high quality public school will be his top priority as governor.”
Supporters of Jewish day schools had been concerned over cuts Wolf could make to the programs and had planned to make voters aware of the Democratic candidate’s statements on the tax credits, said Elliot Holtz, chair of the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools.
Students attending Jewish day schools in the Philadelphia area will receive an estimated $5 million in scholarships funded by the two programs for the upcoming school year, according to the Orthodox Union.
Corbett, who has been criticized for cutting funding to public schools — a charge he denies — has been a staunch supporter of the tax credit programs.
Holtz described Wolf’s statement that he would not interfere with the EITC program as “huge news.”
“It’s an encouraging statement from his campaign that they recognize the important role that EITC plays to help Pennsylvania children get the education that’s appropriate for them,” he said.
Wolf’s campaign has not responded to repeated questions on whether he would preserve $50 million in funding for the OSTC program, which was approved in 2012 and also allows businesses to receive tax credits for donating but is limited to students who live in an area where they would otherwise attend a failing school.