By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Penn. — A new report says millions of state dollars are being funneled to religious and private schools through two voucher programs.

The Pennsylvania House has approved a bill to increase funding by $55 million over the current $125 million level for the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit and Educational Improvement Tax Credit. But Stephen Herzenberg, director of the Keystone Research Center, said at least 30 counties get none of that money – and much of the funding goes to schools that don’t even have to be accredited.

“Three-quarters of the money goes to religious schools, and a substantial share of that is schools that teach creationism and teach faith-based curricula,” Herzenberg said.

Promoters of the programs claim they provide better educational opportunities to low-income and under-served students. But the report found that much of the money goes to elite schools catering to the rich.

The report examined 23 of the top private schools in the state, with an average annual tuition of $32,000. Herzenberg said every one was getting money from at least one of the two programs, and most got money from both.

“These programs end up subsidizing some of the most exclusive and expensive private schools in the state; essentially subsidizing, also, affluent families,” he said.

On average, the report said, the elite schools received $500,000 in taxpayer dollars each. And Herzenberg pointed out that the 44 percent increase for the programs in the House-approved budget is more than half of the total increase proposed in Gov. Wolf’s Budget for Basic Education Funding for all public schools.

“We should be putting more of the state’s money into public schools, including the public schools in rural areas, which aren’t served at all by these voucher programs,” he said.

According to Herzenberg, research on voucher programs in other states has shown they don’t improve educational outcomes