PUNXSUTAWNEY — Private schools celebrated the Pennsylvania’s Educational Income Tax Credit (EITC) program and Bridge Educational Foundation at SS.C.D. School Friday.
The Bridge Education Foundation and its donors —CSX Transportation, RBC Capital Markets, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan and XTO Energy — were on hand at the Catholic school to announce $149,000 in EITC scholarships for local families.
State Sen. Joe Scarnati, president pro tempore, and state Rep. Sam Smith, speaker of the state House, were in attendance to show their support for the EITC program and the local schools.
Msgr. Joseph Riccardo, pastor of SS.C.D. Roman Catholic Church, said last year, the parish celebrated the church’s 125th anniversary. SS.C.D. School first held classes in 1892, as education has always been a cornerstone of the Catholic faith.
“Jessica Newcome, our new principal at SS.C.D. School, and I attach great importance to providing our children a faith-based environment in which they can learn and grow,” he said.
Riccardo said that SS.C.D.’ s hard-working teachers strive to provide an optimal education experience in a friendly, supportive atmosphere.
“We are honored to host the Bridge Educational Foundation and happy to join with the other schools that are represented here today to recognize the elected officials and business leaders who support Pennsylvania’s EITC program,” he said. “The program offers scholarships to children of families who might not otherwise be able to afford a choice in their child’s education.”
Riccardo also extended his personal gratitude to the Bridge Educational Foundation for its ongoing support. He also thanked Scarnati and Smith for their legislative support, which has made the EITC program possible.
Pete Gleason, chairman of the Bridge Educational Foundation, said he grew up in the Johnstown area and attended a Catholic elementary school, which has since closed its doors. He’s also seen the ongoing financial problems at Bishop McCourt Catholic High School.
“I’ve gotten to see first hand how difficult it is to keep the doors open, especially during a tough economy,” he said.
That’s what EITC and the Bridge Foundation are all about.
“We’re here to provide a bridge between our donors, XTO Energy and CSX Transportation, UnitedHealthcare and RBC,” he said. “These are some of our longest, most generous donors, and we are very fortunate to have them.”
The Bridge Foundation is an independent scholarship organization that is not associated with any particular school, region or diocese. The program that was created by the legislature and governor several years ago.
Gleason said he congratulated the voters of Punxsutawney for having the wisdom to elect Scarnati and Smith, who have supported EITC.
“When you go home, make sure to thank your mom and dad who value your education so much that they are willing to pay twice as much as other parents for your education,” Gleason said.
Scarnati said allowing parents to decide where they want to send their children to school is a good thing, having visited some school districts in inner-city Philadelphia.
“You go to the inner city, and you see children that are locked into a failing school district in a neighborhood where the school will never do any better,” he said, adding that it’s a cycle that occurs over and over again which the EITC program corrects.
“For many years in Pennsylvania, we’ve invested in schools, and I think it’s time that we take the money and invest into the kid and allow the parent to decide where their kid should go to school,” Scarnati said. “I represent eight counties, and I have to tell you, whether it’s public or private, schools in my district are all excellent.
“We have to give the parents a choice if we’re going to change the way kids grow up,” he added.
Smith said everyone has a role in education, and they must do whatever it takes to make it work.
“In the legislature, we make the rules just like the principals make the rules,” he said.
Newcome said as a principal and preschool teacher at SS.C.D., she has seen first-hand how the Bridge Scholarship has benefitted students.
“Twenty-five-thousand dollars in scholarships help our students to learn and play,” she said. “The Bridge Scholarship provides 50 percent of all families at SS.C.D. with funds and pays more than 75 percent of their tuition cost.”
Each family that receives assistance from the Bridge scholarship is required to volunteer at the child’s school.
“Through the volunteers, I get to know each family a little better because they are here helping in various areas at SS.C.D.,” Newcome said.
The scholarship donations announced Friday are part of the Pennsylvania Pre-Kindergarten and K-12 EITC programs.
In addition to SS.C.D., families with children attending Punxsutawney Christian School, DuBois Area Catholic. St. Leo, St. Boniface, St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School System, Elk County Catholic and St. Bernard Schools will receive scholarships.