Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Democratic state lawmakers are beginning to make finer points of disagreement with the governor on the centerpiece of his budget proposal.
Gov. Corbett defends his proposal for a new $240 million block grant for public schools as a way to ensure money is being funneled into classrooms for academic improvement programs (as opposed to personnel costs). The proposed additional funding, called the Ready to Learn Block Grant, differs from another block grant already in the education budget - the $100 million Accountability Block Grant, which Corbett is proposing to continue into the next fiscal year. The two block grants differ in two ways: how they can be spent by schools and their operating formula, or how the funding is distributed to schools.
Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, said the formula for the Ready to Learn proposal is problematic. "The poorest school districts do not appear to be doing very well on it," he said.
The Senate Democratic Caucus has begun comparing the funding distribution of the Accountability Block Grant to the new Ready to Learn block grant proposed this year by Corbett. Dinniman said the newly proposed grant seems to be a raw deal for struggling districts. "When we add up the impact of this new formula," he said, "it appears that the poorest school districts are actually ending up with less money and the more prosperous school districts are ending up with more money."
Dinniman argued that any funding increase should be driven out to districts based on the formula used for the existing block grant in the education budget, because it accounts for problems typically found in low-income school districts.
"Your poorer districts are probably the ones that need it the most," said Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He added that the issue will likely be a subject of debate. There's been a recent surge in attention on the various education funding formulas. Last month, Gov. Corbett echoed Democrats and said the education funding formula needs to be fair. "I wish I could define what that is," Folmer said.
On an appearance on witf's Smart Talk Friday, Gov. Corbett said his administration may look into the issue. Appropriations committees will spend the next three weeks taking budget recommendations from the governor's cabinet secretaries and other state agency directors.
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