Mixed reviews on Corbett's school-funding increase

Posted: February 06, 2014

The $400 million boost to public education that Gov. Corbett proposed Tuesday drew swipes from critics who said the gains would come through targeted programs that favored wealthier districts and would not make up for years of budget cuts.

Others, including local educators, welcomed any increase in state aid.

"If everything falls in place, it would be pretty good for our district," said Upper Darby Superintendent Richard Dunlap, whose district stands to get an additional $2.1 million, enough to cut a looming 5.5 percent tax increase almost in half.

Joe Watkins, the state receiver in the Chester Upland district, said he believed his district might net $700,000 more next year.

"We'll be doing a little better," he said, "and we're grateful for it."

Downingtown stands to gain $1.3 million, said Superintendent Larry Mussoline. "We're talking about a $200 million budget, but nobody is looking a gift horse in the mouth," he said. "We're certainly happy for an increase."

Jenkintown Superintendent Tim Wade was worried that his district, which has not had an increase in basic funding in six years despite a 20 percent increase in enrollment, would get overlooked again. "We're hoping, somewhere along the line, they're going to recognize us," he said, "but they usually don't."

Corbett's proposal includes the largest increase in education funding since he took office - yet basic education funding for schools would remain flat.

The money would instead finance initiatives such as "Ready to Learn," a $241 million effort that would pay for teacher training and other programs.

"Through targeted initiatives," Corbett said, "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."

The program goals include ensuring that every child reads and understands math at grade level by the third grade and gets grounded in science, and that schools tailor instruction to students who need it. An additional $1 million will go to "struggling schools," the governor said without elaborating.

Corbett critics said the narrow focus of the new spending would not reach the students with the greatest needs.

"The school funding really doesn't even begin to restore the cuts that Pennsylvania public schools have suffered through for the last three years of this governor's term," said Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the teachers' union.

Keever said programs that would be financed through Ready to Learn would be of little help to districts that increased class sizes or dropped full-day kindergarten after previous cuts in state aid.

Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said money was assigned through block grants rather than basic instruction because "we want to make a strategic investment in those practices that . . . increase student achievement. . . . We all recognize that the basic instructional formula needs an overhaul."

Corbett also proposed $10 million in additional spending in early-childhood education, $20 million on special-education programs, and a $25 million college scholarship program for middle-income children.

Critics wondered whether the education funding would be sustainable, because Corbett has promised no new taxes, is continuing a series of corporate-levy cuts, and is dealing with a pension-funding crisis.

Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Youth and Children, said that while the proposal was a step forward, she thought it was unlikely to be implemented, since the funding is "very precarious."


kboccella@phillynews.com

610-313-8232

@kathyboccella

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