Education a focus of Gov. Corbett's budget address; plan includes funding boost
By Paul Socolar on Feb 4, 2014 12:35 PM
Gov. Corbett devoted nearly one-fourth of his annual budget address to education issues, proposing a total commitment of $10.1 billion to public education spending in the fiscal year starting July 1, a boost of 3.8 percent.
About two-thirds of that increase, $241 million, is directed to a new formula-driven "Ready to Learn" block grant fund focused on early learning and educational innovation. Philadelphia stands to get a $29 million increase -- 12 percent of the new funds -- through the grant program, formerly known as "Accountability Block Grants." The formula used to divide up the new funds weighs enrollment, the poverty rate, and the number of English language learners in each district.
The budget plan includes $984 million in basic education funding to Philadelphia, the same level as last year. The state's overall basic education funding line item, which accounts for more than half of state spending on schools and is the source of most of Philadelphia's state funding, is flat in the governor's plan.
The governor's budget proposal also offers increases for the Pre-K Counts program (11 percent) and special education (2 percent), and calls for a $105 million increase (10 percent) to the Public School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS.
Here are the governor's prepared remarks on education from the Tuesday morning speech:
This commonwealth is the sixth-largest economy in the United States. And we’ll be running at full strength as long as we concentrate on three priorities, a great education for every child, a private sector where every business large and small can grow and hire, and a health care and human services system where everyone has choices and everyone is covered.
Let’s begin with education. Every child in this state should be ready to learn…ready to grow, ready to succeed, and my budget sets an agenda in that spirit.
Education is the largest single item in my budget. The increase I propose would bring direct state support of public education to $10.1 billion, more than 40 percent of state spending.
That reflects additional money we’ve devoted to our schools during my time as governor, which comes to almost $1.55 billion.
Early in my administration, of course, we were faced with the problem of the vanishing federal stimulus money. It had been used to pay for education, and when it was gone there was nothing left in the General Fund to fill the gap. But with every great challenge also comes great opportunity.
We have a responsibility to give the children of this state a 21st Century education, and over the past three years we have worked every day with thousands of parents, teachers and administrators from across this state to ensure that we drive each and every dollar into education that meets the needs of the children of Pennsylvania.
Through targeted initiatives, we have worked to increase accountability and transparency in our schools, infused stronger educational resources into our classrooms and focused financial resources on supporting students at all levels. This budget will continue to support these strong reforms.
Each of our 3,000 schools now has a School Performance Profile, so that parents and communities have all the basic facts. If a school has problems that are setting children back, that’s something parents and communities need to know.
And when everything is going right in a school, and students are doing great, we want to know that, too, so the best can become the standard for the whole state.
As former teachers, my wife, Sue, and I have been visiting schools all across the commonwealth. It’s been an uplifting experience, to return to the kids and the classrooms and feel the enthusiasm in our schools.
We are pleased to have with us today representatives from one of the schools that has received an Excellence in Education Award. Students Amira Ellison and Hoang Le, along with their teacher, Judd Pittman, and their principal, Marisol Craig, from Harrisburg’s Math Science Academy, welcome, and congratulations on your achievement.
We have worked to strengthen teacher evaluations to ensure great teachers in every classroom, and improved testing that better measures what a student is learning. These improvements are a result of collaboration with and input from superintendents, administrators and teachers. Our goal was to listen to -- and benefit from -- the experts in education so we could put the best methods into practice.
As we increase education spending, we are making certain that more of that money goes where it will do the most good, directly to our kids.
At every level, from Early Childhood to high school and beyond, every dollar we spend is an investment in the future of our commonwealth. Because of these strong reforms, I am pleased to announce today the next phase of my Ready to Learn education agenda, which includes strategic investments at all levels of education.
This budget starts with our youngest, investing an additional $10 million in Pre-K Counts to allow more 3- and 4-year-olds to enter high quality early learning programs. This funding, combined with the recent $51 million we were awarded in the federal Race to the Top grant for early learning, means that Pennsylvania will continue to provide some of the best early childhood education programs in the nation.
For K-through-12, I am excited to announce the Ready to Learn Block Grant, $241 million in funding for school districts that focuses on student achievement and academic success.
It builds upon the strength of the Accountability Block Grant created many years ago by Speaker Sam Smith, bringing the total Ready to Learn dollars available for districts to $341 million in this budget.
This block grant is designed to ensure that every child is reading and doing math at grade level by the third grade, that students are getting the grounding they need in science and technology, and that a school is flexible enough to give tailored instruction to students who need it.
This block grant includes $1 million in targeted grants to help struggling schools meet their potential. The most obvious way is to link up with the top schools in a mentoring partnership, to gain from their experience and knowledge. These grants will make those school-to-school connections possible.
In order to embrace new, and customized, methods of learning, this budget will invest $10 million into the Pennsylvania Hybrid Learning Grant Fund. Ask our teachers, and many will tell you that hybrid learning produces great results and engages the interest of children and helps them to excel.
Of course, every school should always be a welcoming place for children with special needs, just as our whole state should be. School districts have not seen an increase in special education funding in six years. In this budget, I am proposing an increase of $20 million in special education funding, to make sure that every child has a chance to succeed.
As we focus on early childhood and K-12, we also need to ensure that once our children graduate, they are prepared not only to enter the workforce, but also to achieve post-secondary learning opportunities on their journey to a career.
We all know post-secondary degrees are costly and sometimes out of reach as students and their families worry about debt. With this budget, we will launch the Ready to Succeed Scholarship program, which will provide an additional $25 million for middle-income students who want to earn a two- or four-year degree.
The grants would go directly to academically achieving students who otherwise may not be able to attain enough financial aid. To further support our students, I present a challenge to all post-secondary institutions across Pennsylvania: Join with me in holding the line on student debt. I urge these schools to match the grants. Let's give every Pennsylvania student a great start.
Whether students are looking at trade school or college, a little help at the right time can make a world of difference. And it’ll make our state even more attractive to businesses considering whether to move or expand here.
They’ll want to know if Pennsylvania has prepared our young adults in the trades and disciplines that are always in demand. And our answer will be YES.