Governor Rendell Signs Education Budget Preserving Pennsylvania's Academic Progress, Keeping Property Taxes Down

Second Year of School Funding Formula Includes Largest-Ever Basic Education Funding Increase

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today signed a bipartisan education budget that fulfills Pennsylvania's commitment to the school funding formula enacted by the General Assembly last year, continues to invest in the programs that are proven to boost student achievement, and makes wise use of federal stimulus funds to avoid local budget cuts and to build momentum in improving the commonwealth's schools.

"Pennsylvania is leading the nation in the gains our students are making in math and reading, and I refused to sign a budget that would bring an end to this progress," Governor Rendell said. "We can all be proud of the education budget that the General Assembly approved because it maintains the great progress our students and teachers are making, and it protects local property taxpayers from bearing an even greater burden of education costs."

As a result of funding approved by the General Assembly, the number of school districts spending less than $8,500 per pupil -- the first adequacy benchmark set by the state four years ago -- has dropped from 297 school districts in 2003 to zero during the last school year. Over the same period, Pennsylvania was the only state in the nation to make progress in elementary, middle and high school reading and math, according to the independent Center on Education Policy.

The 2009-10 education budget includes a $300 million increase in the state's core funding formula for basic education, the largest increase in Pennsylvania history. It also preserves the programs that have been most effective in increasing student achievement, including Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and Accountability Block Grants, which are responsible for nearly doubling the proportion of kindergartners in full-day programs.

"Just like every other part of state government, our education budget felt real pain as a result of the national recession," Governor Rendell added. "We had to make extraordinarily difficult choices, and programs that I care deeply about -- including the Governor's Schools of Excellence, Classrooms for the Future, and our hallmark tutoring initiative -- all faced cuts or elimination."

Putting Adequate Resources in Our Classrooms, Preventing Property Tax Hikes

In its first two years, Pennsylvania's school funding formula has invested $574 million in closing the adequacy gap -- while helping local communities avoid an average 5.5 percent property tax increase.

The funding formula implements the results of a landmark study that the General Assembly ordered in 2006 to determine the level of resources needed in each of Pennsylvania's school districts. The legislature enacted the predictable funding system as part of last year's budget agreement, setting a goal in law to fully fund the formula within six years.

"The General Assembly's Costing-Out Report provides a blueprint for student success and for the state to pay its fair share of school funding," according to Governor Rendell. "Eliminating the adequacy gap will enable Pennsylvania to close the achievement gap."

Pennsylvania's school funding formula includes strong accountability for the use of new funding, ensuring that every taxpayer dollar is maximized to increase student achievement. School districts are required to invest in programs that are proven to boost student learning, including pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, tutoring and other strategies to increase classroom time, and updated curricula and advanced courses.

Continuing to Invest in Early Childhood Education

Despite cuts across the state budget, the 2009-10 spending plan maintains funding for Pennsylvania's three core early childhood programs: Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program, and the Accountability Block Grant. Together, they will make it possible for 20,000 children to experience high-quality pre-kindergarten and for an estimated two-thirds of 5-year-olds to enroll in full-day kindergarten.

"Early childhood education is the foundation of our academic progress," Governor Rendell said. "Every dollar that we invest today generates enormous future savings by avoiding unnecessary special education costs, dropouts, unemployment, criminal justice expenditures and lost tax revenue."

The 2009-10 education budget maintains 2008-09 funding levels for all three programs:

  • $86.4 million for Pre-K Counts, enabling 11,800 children to enroll in pre-kindergarten;
  • $39.5 million for Head Start, supporting 5,700 children in this proven federal program; and
  • $271.4 million for the Accountability Block Grant, which funds 2,900 pre-kindergarten slots, 52,600 children in full-day kindergarten, and smaller class size for 16,000 students.

Ensuring Every High School Diploma is a Ticket to Success

Pennsylvania's budget continues a major modernization of the high school experience, giving students the skills they need to succeed in college or in the workforce after graduation.

The budget Governor Rendell signed into law will enable thousands of high school students to earn college credit through the Dual Enrollment program, funded at $8 million.

And while state funding for Classrooms for the Future was eliminated due to the budget crisis, federal stimulus funding will make $25 million available to school districts seeking to provide students with laptops, help teachers use this new technology to improve classroom instruction, and make other technology upgrades.

The enacted budget also includes the resources needed to continue developing a model voluntary curriculum and tools for teachers to identify where students need extra help, and to begin work on Keystone Exams -- assessments that students can take in place of high school final exams when they finish a course -- that will be made available at no cost to school districts and which school districts will have the option to use.

Making College More Affordable for Pennsylvania Families

The Governor and General Assembly shielded higher education from deep budget cuts in order to protect families during tough economic times while enacting a new state law to help save on tuition bills.

PHEAA Grants to Students -- the state's tuition grant program -- will receive nearly the same level of funding as 2008-09: $403.6 million, a less than 1 percent reduction. At the same time, Pennsylvania students will receive an additional $262 million in Pell Grants as a result of the federal stimulus package.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education will be able to spend $519.2 million in 2009-10 through combined state and federal funding -- the same level that Governor Rendell proposed in February -- and the community colleges will be funded at $235.7 million.

In addition, the budget legislation includes a dramatic expansion of Pennsylvania's successful Transfer & Articulation System, which ensures that students receive the maximum possible credits when they move from one college to another. Nearly 3 in 5 college students start at one institution and finish at another, yet loss of credit when they transfer drives up tuition costs for Pennsylvania families.

Under the new law, students will be able to transfer from community colleges to the State System and earn full credit entering as a university junior and, for the first time, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University will participate in the state's transfer system by agreeing to accept and fully recognize 30 course credits in time for the next academic year.

"Families and college students lose out when they have to take extra credits -- and pay extra tuition -- as a result of transferring to a new university," Governor Rendell said. "Pennsylvania's higher education institutions are working together to eliminate this 'transfer tax,' and I am grateful for their leadership as well as to the legislators who championed the reform."

Using Stimulus Funds to Advance Reform, Avoid Budget Cuts

Governor Rendell said that funding from President Obama's American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, was critical to avoiding deep state and local education budget cuts, and that the enacted 2009-10 budget lives up to the state's responsibility to make the best use of these temporary resources to continue increasing achievement in Pennsylvania schools.

The 2009-10 budget includes a total of $748 million from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for education:

  • $300 million to implement the second year of Pennsylvania's school funding formula;
  • $355 million to avoid deep cuts in education funding; and
  • $93 million to restore funding to public institutions of higher education.

The budget also provides school districts with $772 million in temporary stimulus funds for low-income students and for special education students.

"We are committed to using these vital resources with two goals in mind: first, we will spur innovation and improvement in our schools; and, second, we will invest these stimulus funds in a fiscally responsible manner that prepares for the disappearance of funding in just two short years," Governor Rendell said.

Within the next several days, Governor Rendell will submit Pennsylvania's revised State Fiscal Stabilization Fund application to the U.S. Department of Education in order to draw down the bulk of these federal funds.

For more information about Governor Rendell's investments in education, visit the Department of Education online at www.pde.state.pa.us.

Media contact: Gary Tuma, 717-783-1116

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor



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