By Maura Pennington
For The Pennsylvania Independent
HARRISBURG PA — If school districts like Pottsgrove, Pottstown and Spring-Ford hope for more money in the coming year, their leaders are going to have to jump through hoops to get at it.
Gov. Tom Corbett is willing to funnel new money into education, but the cash won’t go through the normal pipeline that runs into Pennsylvania classrooms. His proposal ties new money to targeted grant programs. That’s not sitting well with some lawmakers and school personnel who say they would prefer to see resources go into the basic education budget line item.
Corbett’s basic education budget proposal — those are the dollars that get divided among school districts with few strings attached — remains close to the levels of previous years at $5.53 billion. The extra funding would go to tailored initiatives he said could spread successful programs to classrooms around the state.
But Corbett’s programs are very specific. For instance, $1 million has been made available to the highest-performing schools through the Governor’s Expanding Excellence Program. These competitive grant funds would go to analyzing strategies for student achievement in an attempt to share best practices with other schools.
“We would be looking for schools that bring forward ideas that are not widely known,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
To be eligible, a school must score 90 or above on the new School Performance Profile and submit a proposal showing how its success can be replicated in other schools.
“There is a benefit to finding out what’s working in high-performing schools, but you have to take into account environment,” said Rep. Jordan Harris, D- Philadelphia. With 500 urban, suburban and rural districts, Pennsylvania has diverse populations of students with separate learning issues.
School employees who work to win grants say they are concerned that targeted grant funding will not allow them the discretion to address their particular needs.
“We are worried that, at a time when we are facing reductions, we will have new money, but won’t be able to use it to stem personnel and program cuts,” said Jay Himes, executive director at the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly have made preliminary efforts to address basic education funding, with Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks, introducing a resolution calling for a study of the funding formula. That resolution, however, is pending before the House Committee on State Government.
For now, grant coordinators at Pennsylvania schools will be busy. In addition to the $341 million Accountability Block Grant and Ready to Learn Grant funds, $10 million is at stake in Hybrid Learning Grant money and $51 million in federal Race to the Top funds for early learning initiatives.
Related (to the Pottsgrove schools’ 2014-’15 budget):