Penn. Governor Takes Page from Obama: Education Grants with Strings Attached

Penn. Governor Takes Page from Obama: Education Grants with Strings Attached
February 26, 2014

PHILADELPHIA — If Pennsylvania schools hope for more money in the coming year, school leaders will have to jump through hoops to get it.

Gov. Tom Corbett (R) 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, and 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.

Corbett’s basic education budget proposal—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 is available to the highest-performing schools through the Governor’s Expanding Excellence Program. These competitive grants would go to analyzing strategies for student achievement in an attempt to share 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 show how its success can be replicated.

With 500 urban, suburban, and rural districts, Pennsylvania has diverse populations of students. Philadelphia has only three district schools that could try for the grant.

“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).

School employees who work to win grants say they are concerned the 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.

Maura Pennington (mpennington@watchdog.org) is a Pennsylvania reporter for Watchdog.org. This article is reprinted with permission. Image by Talk Radio News Service.