Pa. taxpayers underwrite Sandusky charity

Sign in State College outside the Sandusky-founded charity for troubled youths is shown in March. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sign in State College outside the Sandusky-founded charity for troubled youths is shown in March. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: June 29, 2012

PENNSYLVANIA TAXPAYERS have underwritten nearly $1.4 million in contributions to the Second Mile, the disgraced charity founded by convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky where testimony showed he groomed some of the boys he later molested.

The taxpayer-subsidized donations — which support the Second Mile's summer camp and an annual Leadership Institute — come through a controversial scholarship program called the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC, that may be dramatically expanded as lawmakers in Harrisburg look to pass a new state budget this weekend.

Despite the uproar over Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who was convicted last week on 45 of 48 charges that he molested 10 boys, the Second Mile continues to receive the state-backed donations — $122,861 in the current fiscal year, according to records.

Officials with the state Department of Community and Economic Development said that the State College-based charity could soon lose its status as an approved Educational Improvement Organization — not because of Sandusky but because its assets may be sold to an outfit based in Texas.

Critics of EITC — currently a $75 million program that mainly underwrites scholarships for kids to attend religious and private schools — say that the Second Mile is a glaring example of a shocking lack of oversight of what the Pennsylvania tax subsidies actually pay for.

"There really is very minimal accountability," said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a progressive policy think tank. Last year, his center issued a report called " No Accountability" that said that state officials lack basic information on whether EITC scholarships actually improve student performance, even as they mandate extensive testing and evaluation in public schools.

Despite that study and a recent New York Times report tracking political influence in the tax-credit program, lawmakers in Harrisburg — aided by lobbying from the Philadelphia Archdiocese and big-bucks proponents of vouchers — are debating several proposals that would increase EITC funding from the current $75 million to somewhere between $100 million and $200 million.

The expansion of nonpublic-school aid comes as troubled urban public-school systems, such as those in Philadelphia, Reading and Harrisburg, weigh massive budget cuts.

In the EITC program, corporations that make donations to sanctioned educational programs receive a state tax credit that allows them essentially to get back between 75 and 90 percent of the cost. Critics note that the scholarships actually are underwritten by taxpayers because the money returned to corporate donors otherwise would have supported state programs, including aid to public schools.

Past newsletters from the Second Mile — the charity for at-risk youth that Sandusky, former top assistant to football legend Joe Paterno, founded in 1977 — encourage donations through EITC and list donors, including a number of Pennsylvania-based banks and investment funds and Waste Management, the trash giant for which Gov. Corbett was once an executive.

State records provided Wednesday to the Daily News show that the state-backed contributions to the Second Mile began in the 2004-05 fiscal year and have added up to $1,378,159.

Current Second Mile President Dave Woodle said in a phone interview Wednesday that EITC funds have paid about half the costs of two programs — an annual Leadership Institute program for hundreds of high school students and summer Challenge Camps for youth. The camps are slated to go ahead next month despite the charity's woes, including the Sandusky verdict. Woodle noted that none of Sandusky's criminal activity involved either of the two programs.  

Contact Will Bunch at 215-854-2957 or bunchw@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter: @Will_Bunch. Read his blog, Attytood.com. We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.

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