By Rob Wheary

MOUNT CARMEL - Tenth- through 12th-grade students in the Mount Carmel Area (MCA) School District have the opportunity to apply for scholarships to other schools for 2013-14 after the senior high school made the state's list of under-performing schools.

Chief Shikellamy Elementary, Sunbury, is the only other school in Northumberland County that is on the list, released last week by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

The designation allows students to apply for scholarships through the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program to attend participating public or non-public schools during the next school year.

MCA Superintendent Bernie Stellar said the designation is the result of lower test scores in 11th grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing during the 2011-2012 school year.

"The previous two years, we made Adequate Yearly Progress each year; 2011-2012 was a bad year for scores for the 11th-graders," he said. "We are hoping it is only one bad year and we will be back on track and off next year's list."

According to a program overview found on the PDE website, a low-achieving school is defined as a public elementary or secondary school in Pennsylvania ranking in the bottom 15 percent of its designation in the state based on combined math and reading scores on the most recent PSSA results available.

"It is a disappointment, but we can rebound from this," Stellar said.

He was quick to point out the list only names the senior high school, not the junior high or elementary.

No other districts that serve Northumberland County students, such as Southern Columbia or Warrior Run, are on the list.

The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, formerly known as the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, is funded by businesses making contributions to scholarship organizations in exchange for a tax credit.

One group that the program funds is the Neumann Scholarship Foundation, from the catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. In December, the foundation received a gift of more than $240,000 earmarked for Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School.

Eligible students are defined as those school-age children living in the attendance boundary of the low-achieving school as of the first day of classes. Those with a household income of $75,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent member of the household, can apply.

The maximum scholarship that can be awarded is $8,500 for a student without a disability and $15,000 for a student with a disability.

A list of opportunity scholarship organizations is available on the Department of Community and Economic Development's website, www.newpa.com/ostc.