Over the decades in which politicians have not done enough to help failing public schools, generations of poor children in Pennsylvania have passed from those schools to the dismal economic and social realities of what a subpar education means in America's competitive society.

State lawmakers debated at length last year about the breadth of a voucher plan to offer students alternative to their local public school, but ultimately did nothing with that.

Last week, however, the Legislature passed a bill that will create opportunities for many of the children who would have benefitted from that voucher plan.

The new law creates a separate tax credit for corporate donations to scholarship funds in areas that have schools that consistently rate in the state's bottom 15 percent. Most of those schools are in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

The educational opportunity scholarship tax credit is in addition to and modeled after the existing educational improvement tax credit. Under the new plan targeted to the lowest-performing schools, students may use money from scholarship funds to attend a public school outside their district, or a private school. It will provide a tax credit of up to 75 percent of the amount, 90 percent if the donor contributes in two consecutive years. The program is capped at $50 million.

Lawmakers also expanded the existing tax credit program, which operates statewide rather than only in the lowest-performing districts. The EITC cap was raised to $100 million from $75 million. It designates $60 million for scholarships, $30 million for educational improvement grants and $10 million for pre-kindergarten scholarships. It also expands eligibility from $60,000 in family income to $75,000.

Both programs expand opportunities for children, especially those stuck in failed schools, while creating competition to help drive improvements in public schools, without taking money out of public school budgets.