W.Pa. school districts say kids will stay

| Friday, July 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Officials from some of the region's lowest-performing public schools said Thursday they don't expect an exodus of students this year because of a state program that will allow transfers with the help of a scholarship.

“It may have some effect, but I don't expect it to be that extreme or profound. A lot of parents who are not happy with the district have already pulled their kids,” said Woodland Hills Superintendent Alan Johnson.

Woodland Hills has six schools on a list the state released Wednesday of 414 schools in 74 districts statewide.

The list includes 53 schools in 10 districts in Allegheny County. Two schools in Beaver County, one school in Butler County, and 16 schools in five Fayette County districts are also included.

If a student wants to transfer from one of those districts, the accepting district must be signed up with the state to accept students under the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law this month, said education department spokesman Tim Eller.

Private and public schools that sign up will not be forced to take students beyond their schools' capacity. Officials will use a lottery to determine which students will be admitted if more apply than slots available, Eller said.

To qualify for a scholarship to transfer to a private school for the 2012-13 school year, a student's annual household income must be below $60,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent.

Scholarships up to $8,500 will be awarded, or up to $15,000 for a special education student. If a school's tuition is higher than the allotted amount, the family must make up the difference, Eller said.

Schools have until Aug. 15 to opt in to the scholarship program.

The state compiled the list based on combined math and reading scores from the 2010-11 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test results.

It contains the lowest-achieving 15 percent of elementary schools and lowest-achieving 15 percent of secondary schools. Eller said scores from the most recent assessments are not yet finalized.

Funding for the scholarships comes from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit that businesses receive for donating to the scholarship.

“I would be surprised if there's a mass exodus,” said Michael Strutt, superintendent of the Butler School District, whose Center Avenue elementary school was listed. “We've never had a school on a list like that before.

“We're kind of puzzled. The school has made (the state's Adequate Yearly Progress) for the last four years.”

There are no limits on how far the receiving school can be from the student's former school, Eller said.

Under state law, the student's home district is required to provide transportation up to 10 miles.

Wilkinsburg School District Superintendent Archie Perrin said the tax credit program is yet another means of siphoning needed resources from districts — particularly those with high percentages of students from low-income households — which already contend with declining state revenue.

Eller said that if a student is gone from a district more than two years, his or her home district will also lose the state subsidy for that student.

Bobby Kerlik is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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