Help is on the way for thousands of Pennsylvania students after a months-long budget feud ended Wednesday night. The drama began in July when Gov. Josh Shapiro reneged on his support of Lifeline scholarships during budget negotiations, resulting in a standoff between Republican school choice supporters in the Senate and Democrat foes in the House. Shapiro’s signature on House Bill 301, which includes a historic increase to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs, ends the dispute — and makes Pennsylvania a leader in expanding school choice in a purple state.

Through these programs, businesses and individuals receive tax credits for donations to educational improvement organizations and groups that provide private school scholarships to lower and middle-income families. These programs awarded nearly 80,000 K–12 scholarships, with an average value of around $2,200—far below the $21,000 average per pupil spending in Pennsylvania public schools that year. However, there were more than 63,000 scholarship applications that were not funded because of arbitrary caps on the program. Wednesday’s increase should help alleviate the shortfall.

Beneficiaries of the programs include the Quartmon family, who testified at the Republican Policy Committee hearing on December 12. The family explained they live in a “D” rated Harrisburg school zone. As a small business owner, the family makes more money than is permitted for significant financial aid, but they would never be able to afford the tuition on their own — which Mr. Quartmon called a “Catch 22”. An EITC scholarship for their children has been life-changing, enabling them to attend The Samuel School, a Christian Montessori School with a 6:1 student-teacher ratio, “multi-level learning,” and hands-on learning. Without the scholarship, Mr. Quartmon said he and his wife would likely homeschool, which could adversely affect their business and create a need to take an additional part-time job.

Then there’s the Weaver family, whose child attended preschool using an EITC scholarship and entered Kindergarten at a 6th-grade reading level. Without the scholarship, Mr. Weaver said a career change would have been necessary, and his other children would only be able to attend part-time preschool.

Lori Milach, Public Services Director for the Dauphin Library System, testified to an under-appreciated aspect of the EITC program: support to educational improvement organizations. Ms. Milach said the library provides classes to children related to physics, biology, nutrition, and sewing, among others. “STREAM learning [is] only available due to EITC funds,” she stated. These, she noted, are “skills they will use throughout their lifetimes” that “add to the world around them and hope for their future.” The library programs benefit children of all ages, with Pre-K and after-school programming, as well as offerings for homeschoolers and cyber school students. State Rep. Milou Mackenzie reminded hearing attendees that libraries serve a critical role in providing senior citizen programming as well.

Other community organizations similarly benefit from EITC funding. Chris Watts, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club in Lawrenceville, testified at an EITC hearing in Pittsburgh on December 6. The Boys & Girls Club is the biggest out-of-school-time provider in Western Pennsylvania, promoting academic and financial literacy, STEM enrichment, conflict resolution and leadership training, career mentoring, workforce skills development, and healthy lifestyle and nutrition counseling.

The programs help to prepare children for productive futures with internship placement, a learn-and-earn program, and an Artificial Intelligence Pathways Institute that trains them in practical computing and basic robotics, leading to entry into schools or technical institutes. In his testimony, Mr. Watts stated, “Without EITC contributions, our capacity to continue to provide these quality programs will be reduced significantly, and the lives and futures of hundreds of youth will be impacted.” Thankfully, that is no longer a worry for his program, as the EIO program cap was increased by $10 million in the new legislation.

Last Wednesday’s victory — in a state with a divided government — was hard fought and hard-won, and children across Pennsylvania are the true winners. Support for giving families a say in education is broad and bipartisan, but it often gets stymied by political fights in state legislatures. Other states should be watching.