New Castle News

February 15, 2013

Corbett’s proposed budget could short-change rural schools

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget could be short-changing rural schools.

Corbett is calling for $90 million in additional basic education funding — a statewide increase of 1.65 percent. But only eight of 57 rural districts surveyed will receive as much or more as the statewide average.

Republican lawmakers said examining the rate of increased funding tells only a part of the story because many rural and poor districts are already heavily subsidized.

Senate Democrat leaders earlier this week noted the funding formula creates definite winners: such as York Suburban, which would see its subsidy increase 5.68 percent; Wyomissing in Berks County, which would see its subsidy increase 5.96 percent and the Derry School District in Dauphin County, which would see its subsidy increase 4.79 percent.

The Education Law Center, an advocacy group, focused on the nearly 6 percent for Wyomissing, a suburb of Reading — where the funding increase is just 1 percent — in describing the governor’s budget as an example of “the rich get richer.”

Rep. Bradley Roae, a Republican from Crawford County, noted the schools in his district already receive a greater share of their income from the state.

“The average school district in Pennsylvania gets about 38 percent of its funding from the state,” Roae said.

Pointing to schools in his legislative district, Roae said that in 2010-2011, the percentage of school funding that comes from the state at districts was: 45 percent at Crawford Central, 53 percent at Penncrest; and 58 percent at Titusville.

In those cases, the Crawford Central stands to receive the largest percentage bump in basic education funding, according to data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Crawford Central would get $250,251 in increased basic education under Corbett’s plan, an increase right on par with the state average subsidy increase of 1.65 percent. Penncrest stands to get an increase of $231,642 or 1.28 percent, while Titusville’s increase of $144,055 would be just a 1.1 percent increase on its existing subsidy.

Rep. Michele Brooks, a Republican from Mercer County, said that if the subsidy per pupil cost is taken into account, rural schools compare favorably.

She compared the wealthy and growing Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County to the districts in Crawford County.

Lower Merion will receive an additional $100,000 in subsidy under Corbett’s plan, but with 7,000 students, that amounts to an extra $14 per student. The Greenville Area School Distict in Crawford County is also supposed to get another $100,000. But with just 1,600 students, the increased aid will amount to an extra $68 per student.

The distribution of the basic education funding looms large because school districts have gone two years without an increase in state funding and there is a little consensus about the governor’s other main strategy for providing additional funding to public schools — liquor privatization — funneled through a grant program targeting: science, technology, engineering and math programs; school safety; early childhood education and individualized learning programs.

On Tuesday, Corbett said he hopes schools would use the money to try out new programs, then when the state funds are exhausted, local schools would be in a position to decide whether the programs are worth keeping.

Republican lawmakers expressed concern about designating “one-time” money for education.

Roae compared the proposal to the handling of stimulus funding. After those dollars were exhausted, school districts complained the state had slashed their funding.

Roae added he would rather see any revenue generated by privatizing the liquor system be spent fixing bridges.

Brooks shared Roae’s reservations about providing a temporary infusion of cash to schools.

(Email: jfinnerty@cnhi.com)