Private Schools Able to Pick and Choose Students Getting Opportunity Scholarships

Advocates of Pennsylvania's new Opportunity Scholarship Program often say the goal is to give parents more choice in where their children go to school. An article this week in the Reading Eagle suggests it may be the other way around.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program was enacted along with the 2012-13 state budget. Modeled on the state's Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, it provides tax credits to businesses that make donations to organizations providing scholarships to students in low-achieving districts. The program is funded at $50 million in 2012-13.

Low-achieving districts are defined as the lowest 15% of elementary and secondary schools, based on combined math and reading scores for the prior school year. Students can use scholarships to attend private schools or other public schools.

As Reading Eagle reporter David Meekel writes, private schools are permitted under this scholarship program to accept students at-will, while public schools participating in the program must admit students using a lottery process.

State officials had said that a lottery system will likely be used to award the scholarships...

Chris Wakeley, the Democratic executive director of the House Education Committee, said a lottery will [be] used only for public schools.

Only four public schools statewide have been approved to receive students, Wakeley said. As for the private schools that have been approved, Wakeley said, they will be [able] to pick and choose who they accept.

"We can't require them to take a child," he said.

Wakeley said private schools' only restriction is they can't discriminate based on things like race or religion.

"It's not about a student choosing a school; it's about the school choosing the student," he said.

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