December 1 — 1:21 pm, 2010

Changes in funding policies expected under Corbett, GOP

The fiscal outlook for public schools throughout the state changed with the November election, which ushered in Republican rule in Harrisburg.

Gov. Rendell, a Democrat, oversaw significant increases in state education spending over eight years. But the new regime under Gov.-elect Tom Corbett may abandon the funding formula adopted in 2008 that more closely ties state aid levels to district and student need.

Corbett and the Republican-controlled legislature have said they will reduce state spending, which will hit districts doubly hard since federal stimulus dollars that were used to replace some state aid this year will dry up in 2011. Education advocates hope to make the case that additional funding has translated into better student outcomes.

School District Chief Business Officer Michael Masch said that neither the public nor officials in Harrisburg "understand the amount of progress we’ve made in raising academic achievement, expanding school choice, and improving the safety of students in our schools." He said it’s necessary to communicate "the degree to which increases in funding for public schools…have led to that outcome."

He said he hopes the District and Republicans can find common ground around "keeping effective schools operating … and addressing those that are underperforming" as an economic development strategy that benefits the entire state.

Some, however, are concerned that the administration of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has not imposed fiscal discipline on itself as it enacted her expansive Imagine 2014 reform initiative.

In that camp are former District CEO Phil Goldsmith and City Councilman Bill Green.

Green charged that the administration "has been spending like drunken sailors" on unsustainable initiatives, rather than investing in infrastructure or teacher training.

Goldsmith said that the District should have reined in its contracting and its top-level salaries before political winds changed.

"In some ways I’m optimistic in that it may force the District to do the kind of things that it should have been doing all along," Goldsmith said.

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