By Maura Pennington
for The Pennsylvaia Independent
HARRISBURG PA – Education funding will get a boost in next year’s budget if Gov. Tom Corbett has anything to say about it.
Corbett outlined his 2014-15 budget proposal Tuesday (Feb. 4, 2014), focusing much of his 30-minute address on education programs that come with $387 million in new spending. At $10.1 billion, direct state support for education is the largest item in the budget.
“As we increase education spending, we are making certain that more of that money goes where it will do the most good, directly to our kids,” Corbett said.
Statewide, basic education funding for Pottsgrove, Pottstown, Spring-Ford Area and about 500 other Pennsylvania school districts has been set at $5.53 billion, a slight increase from years past. The highlights of Corbett’s plan for additional education funding come in a series of grant programs. Rather than administer the money to districts to manage as needed, the administration would make funds available for specific endeavors
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Corbett announced allocation of $340 million through a new Ready to Learn Block Grant, which combines the Accountability Block Grant Program with student-focused funding. It will use the new Student Performance Profile to make supplemental money available for innovative learning initiatives.
Ready to Learn also includes $1 million in competitive grant funds for high-performing school districts to mentor other schools in order to replicate best practices. Another $10 million has been dedicated to the Hybrid Learning competitive grant program, to be awarded to schools blending traditional instruction with new technologies.
Democrats have been critical of this approach. “While the governor proposes a new block grant program for education, the flat funding of the basic education subsidy does not undo the damage done by the education cuts of his prior budgets,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County.
Corbett also proposed an increase of $20 million toward special education. About 15 percent of students in Pennsylvania have special needs.
The governor’s budget also includes a funding increase for early intervention and education. Pennsylvania recently received a federal Race to the Top Grant to enhance early learning and development programs.