When he first took office, Governor Corbett walked into a public education funding gap. For over two years Pennsylvania’s school districts received a total of $1.7 billion in stimulus money. Over that same two-year period, public school employee salaries and benefits jumped by $1.3 billion.
Worsening the pain felt by the end of the stimulus money the Rendell administration diverted $554 million in state tax dollars from the basic education funding line and replaced and inflated it with federal stimulus dollars.
Limiting spending over his first two years in office has enabled the Governor to bridge that gap and then some. Among the highlights of the Corbett education proposal is a $90 million increase in basic education funds, bringing that line item to $5.5 billion. Overall, state support of public schools would be $9.8 billion, compared to $9.5 billion last year. Early childhood education aid would increase by $11.4 million, or 3.4 percent. This is the largest investment in basic education in the history of the Commonwealth- second being last year’s total.
The budget also calls for the creation of the Passport for Learning Block Grant, which would channel about $1 billion to schools over a four-year period for school safety initiatives, individualized learning, enrichment for elementary reading and math, and improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. The funding hinges on the legislature's agreeing to privatize alcohol sales.
If privatization of the PLCB occurs, add $1 billion in block grants for four major categories of funding.
- School safety – training for educators/administrators, enhanced security measures and partnerships with local law enforcement;
- Ready by 3 – promoting enhanced achievement in reading and mathematics in K-3 programming;
- Individualized learning – customized learning programs based on student proficiency and academic standards; and
- STEM initiatives – enrichment of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in grades 6-12.
Some argue that this one-time expenditure is similar to the stimulus money Governor Rendell doled out in his last budgets; but it’s not at all the same at all. No state monies are being rescinded in place of this one-time expenditure. Instead, this investment would be granted on top of what would already have been allocated. Additionally, districts will apply for these funds in the form of grants, not given the funds as a part of general operating expenses.