State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Administration defends schools block grant

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 18, 2014 6:15 PM
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Gov. Corbett's top education official is defending the administration's plan for schools funding in the next fiscal year and finding it hard to persuade Democrats.

For years, Democrats hammered the governor for not spending as much as they'd like on education. But Corbett's latest proposal to boost education funding for certain programs and with a new block grant hasn't led to a ceasefire.

At a hearing Tuesday, Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he has problems with the administration's proposed $240 million block grant (Ready to Learn) for schools.

"I'd much rather see an increase in the basic education subsidy which would give school districts more flexibility in how best to direct those sources rather than a new block grant program which I think you've entitled Ready to Learn or other programs that may have strings attached."

Carolyn Dumaresq, the acting education secretary, explained that the plan was developed with feedback from schools and is designed to help them achieve academic gains.

"We've put together this block grant focused at those initiatives that we believe raise student achievement. Inside that block grant, there is flexibility," she said, adding that the Ready to Learn program would even allow schools to waive certain requirements.

But the state's largest teachers' union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, have criticized the impositions of another block grant, and advocates at the Education Law Center have called Ready to Learn "overly prescriptive."

Democrats have also criticized the funding formula at work in the proposed block grant, which they say puts poorer school districts at a disadvantage.

Dumaresq added Tuesday that there's another reason the administration prefers to use a block grant approach - they don't want to increase the funding being driven out via the major pot for schools funding, the Basic Education line item, which has been divvied up without a set formula for the past few years.

"In fact, everyone that at least I speak with has been calling for a new formula," Dumaresq said, adding that the current formula isn't sensitive to current realities of student population and poverty.

Last month, Corbett said the state's current education funding formula is unfair and should be changed. Senate lawmakers are considering House-approved legislation to study and develop a new funding formula.


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