Rendell expected to veto school-code bill over tax break provision

Posted: October 22, 2010

HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell on Friday intends to veto a hefty school-code bill he believes is unconstitutional because of a single provision in it that would grant tax breaks to certain landlords that rent to charter schools.

The bill would, among other things, exempt from paying property taxes nonprofit foundations that rent their properties to charter schools.

Rendell believes it is unconstitutional to give such tax breaks to all nonprofit foundations because some, in his opinion, do not fit the definition of a so-called purely public charity under a 1997 state law, spokesman Gary Tuma said Thursday.

Because Rendell cannot strike just one provision from the legislation, he will have to veto the entire bill, which contains other education proposals, including one named for a Pennsylvania teenager who fell victim to dating violence.

"There are many valuable things in there, and I think the governor in his veto message will express regret about that," Tuma said. "But he feels he has no choice because of the provision in there that makes it unconstitutional."

The charter-school portion of the bill was championed by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), and passed in the House and the Senate.

Most counties and school districts do not collect property taxes from nonprofit foundations that rent facilities to charter schools. But a few do, claiming that certain nonprofits do not qualify for property-tax exemptions.

According to Pileggi's office, the provision Rendell targeted would affect only three charter schools and their nonprofit landlords. They are the School Lane Charter School in Bucks County, the Collegium Charter School in Chester County, and the Avon Grove Charter School, also in Chester County.

State officials said Thursday that charter-school facilities in Pennsylvania can be owned by the charter schools themselves or by the school districts in which they are situated. They can also be owned by a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the charter, or by private owners - whether individuals, for-profit companies, or nonprofits not affiliated with the school.

But Rendell does not believe every nonprofit foundation meets the criteria in the 1997 law defining "purely public charities" that can be exempted from paying taxes, Tuma said.

To be included in that definition, according to the law, an institution must advance a charitable purpose - the relief of poverty, advancement of education or religion, or prevention and treatment of illness and injury. It must also operate "entirely free from private profit motive."

Numerous other provisions in the school-code bill would be adversely affected by Rendell's promised veto.

The provision that would require teen dating-violence education in public schools resulted from a hard-fought - and emotional - battle in the legislature this year. It is known as "Demi's Law," named after Demi Brae Cuccia of Westmoreland County, who was killed in 2007 at age 16 by a boy she had been dating.

Another provision would permit Pennsylvania colleges and universities to establish a program to let older Pennsylvanians take college courses on a tuition-free basis.

Yet another would require the state Education Department's Office of Safe Schools to direct all schools to submit school-violence reports by July 31 every year.

The proposal would also require the Office of Safe Schools to verify the existence of any plan to reduce violence, develop reporting forms for schools and police departments, make sure that schools have a so-called memorandum of understanding with their local police departments, and post a school-violence report on the Internet by Nov. 1 of each year.


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

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