New education block grant is Corbett goal
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania schools would have a new block grant program to work with if Gov. Tom Corbett wins legislative approval for his proposal to privatize the state-run liquor system.
Corbett wants to create a $1 billion, four-year "Passport for Learning Block Grant" with anticipated proceeds from privatization. The idea behind block grants is to earmark money for broad priority areas within some parameters and give school districts flexibility in how they spend it. The four priorities in Corbett's proposal are school safety, early education, individual learning and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses and programs.
Corbett's "Passport" block grant is geared to such one-time expenditures as purchasing locks for school doors, IT equipment for online courses and helping students assemble their own blend of classroom and online courses, but it's not for recurring expenditures such as a new job involving an annual salary, said Education Department spokesman Timothy Eller.
The $1 billion would be distributed over four years as liquor privatization goes forward based on a formula that reflects a school's enrollment, student population and wealth. About $200 million would be available in the first year, the governor's office said.
The education department plans to provide details on the fiscal impact for each school district on Tuesday when Corbett gives his third state budget address.
The Passport block grant will supplement the billions of state dollars flowing through the instructional subsidy and other programs, said Eller.
Since 2003, school districts have received millions of dollars through the state Accountability Block Grant program designed to help schools reach academic performance targets. Nearly 75 percent of districts choose to target their ABG funding for younger students through pre-kindergarten programs, full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes in K-3 grades, according to the House Democratic Appropriations Committee.
The current fiscal 2012-13 state budget provides $100 million for the ABG, but this is down 60 percent since fiscal 2010-11, according to the committee.
It's not known yet how the ABG will fare in the governor's fiscal 2013-14 budget proposal.
Two proposed uses for Passport funding are full-day kindergarten and math and reading in grades K-3, said Eller.
The school safety funds would go towards security training for teachers and staff, making school buildings more secure and partnerships with local law enforcement, added Eller. He said it wouldn't go for school resource officers since that would be a recurring expense.
Rep. Kevin Haggerty D-112, Dunmore, said the governor is recognizing the importance of school safety with the block grant proposal, but he added that privatizing liquor sales and school safety doesn't mix.
He is pushing his legislation to appropriate $90 million to cover the cost of having school resource officers in public, charter and parochial elementary schools as the best way to make schools more safe.
"Without school resource officers, we are just putting a Band-Aid on the problem," said Haggerty.
Haggerty opposes the sale of the state liquor stores and asks what will happen after the initial flush of privatization revenue is gone. He is waiting to see what the governor proposes for school resource officers through traditional education programs.
"I will not support the Privatization of Liquor as an ultimatum to Representatives and Senators who all know too well the importance of protecting our school children," said Haggerty.
A proposal by Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-25, Jefferson County, to boost annual funding for state school safety grants to $10 million doesn't provide enough money to adequately address the need for school resource officers in elementary schools, added Haggerty.
Two Luzerne County lawmakers are skeptical of linking liquor privatization with education funding.
"My inclination is not to link education funding to the sale of liquor licenses," said Rep. Mike Carroll, D-118, Hughestown, a member of the House Education Committee.
"The governor's fixation with privatization includes a bizarre and unhealthy attempt to tie education achievement to what can only be described as a one-time alcohol-funded stimulus package," said state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke.
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