In building terms, a keystone is that part of an arch that all other parts depend upon. In public policy terms, the “keystone” state of Pennsylvania should play the same role in the issue of funding education.
So argued Catholic University law student Zachary Navit (2L), as he presented the semester’s second Student Scholars Series lecture on March 26 at the law school.
Navit’s address, “Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Programs: Businesses and Students Slip through a Crack in the School Choice Wall of Separation,” had a lengthy title but a simple premise.
Navit noted that while nearly all Americans accept and embrace school choice, bitter fights have broken out in many states over how to pay for it.
For example, since many private schools are religiously sponsored, voucher programs often face constitutional challenges stemming from Establishment Clause arguments. These challenges both complicate and delay implementation of school choice.
“The debate really starts when you get to the topic of how you pay for these schools,” Navit observed.
Pennsylvania appears to have found a sensible workaround to the ideological divide, one that other states can learn from. Under former Gov. Tom Ridge, the state implemented two programs that deliberately sidestep the hot-button issue of using public money to pay for education at non-public schools.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs bypass the issue by providing tax credits to businesses for funds donated to approved scholarship or educational improvement organizations which benefit eligible students in both public and private schools in the Commonwealth.
Since these tax credit programs are not government funding of institutions but private money going to private foundations, EITC and OSTC avoid constitutional attacks.
In place for more than a decade, the Pennsylvania approach has largely defanged controversy over education funding in the state.
“We see growing interest by other states that see what Pennsylvania has done,” said Navit. “The positive results of these programs create a good environment for expanding them to other states.’
Emily Newman, CUA Law Class of 2012 and now with Sidley Austin, LLP; and CUA Law Professor Robert Destro served as respondents.
The Columbus School of Law Student Scholars Series was instituted by Professor A.G. Harmon in 2009 both to recognize notable legal scholarship produced by members of the student body during the academic year and to foster the skills associated with presenting and defending that scholarship in a professional conference–style setting.
The final speaker in the 2013-2014 Student Scholars Series is Kathryn Spates (3E), who will present The Commerce Clause and the FDA Regulation of Stem Cells: Regenerative Sciences Serves as the Example” on April 23.