Date of Award

12-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

John A. Anderson

Second Advisor

Susan R. Boser

Third Advisor

Melissa Swauger

Abstract

The Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program is wildly popular among business firms, nonprofit organizations, legislators, school choice coalition organizations, and schools. Proponents claim the EITC enables poor kids to escape failing schools, increases school choice, and improves education through increased competition. Despite multiple expansions in form and funding since its inception in 2001, there is no evidence that the program improves education within the Commonwealth. This dissertation is an in-depth analysis of the policy and an exploration of the disconnect between the proponents’ claims and the reality of who benefits from this nearly $1.5 Billion cumulative investment. I use political choice, market, and boundary theories to help assess the effects of politics and power on the implementation of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit policy and the degree to which the policy meets its purpose.

The study uses mixed method implementation research to evaluate the horizontal and vertical relationships between stakeholders throughout the state. The study relies on secondary data obtained from the administering body, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, as well as document analysis of legislative records, organizational websites, and program documents.

The results of the study show that Pennsylvania is one of the first states to use a corporate tax credit to subsidize private schools by awarding scholarships through a third-party nonprofit scholarship organization. Pennsylvania has among the most generous choice subsidy tax credit rates in the country, allows scholarships to be awarded to families with the highest incomes, and allocates more total tax credit dollars to scholarships than all states but one. The ETIC passed as a compromise legislation with two components: scholarships to appeal to choice advocates, and Educational Improvement grants to appeal to public school advocates. The EITC policy design and implementation led to the accumulation of funds within individual schools and faith-based institutions without evidence that students are migrating from low-achieving public schools, created a program with limited accountability or transparency that shows evidence of lost funds and is ripe for fraud and abuse, and contributes to growing wealth and educational inequality that threaten democracy within the state.

An Executive Summary is available as Appendix B.

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