School supporters push for funding as PA lawmakers negotiate
Upper Darby group protests at Capitol
By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Applause interrupted from Upper Darby School District parents, students and supporters when state Rep. Nick Micozzie said the House restored some education funding.
But the Delaware County Republican was quick to add that circumstances may changes as negotiations continue
“Here’s the fight,” Micozzie said during a rally Wednesday at the statehouse. “We have to convince the governor to approve what we send over.”
Micozzie was referring to the public education funding the General Assembly has added gradually to the governor's proposed budget. While the Pennsylvania Senate introduced adding $50 million for a grant program, the House doubled that to $100 million.
Micozzie, along with several other representatives, spoke to the crowd about the education budget cuts. The demonstrators came from the Upper Darby School District, where the Save UD Arts campaign has rallied against plans to cut music and arts programs.
“We’re not going to lose our foundations, and we’re certainly not willing to sever the ties our children make with their teachers,” Save UD Arts parent coordinator Rachel Ruitberg told the crowd.
The rally was a snapshot of some larger issues — public education funding when costs are increasing, and reaction from school districts on the trickle-down effect of decreased state and federal funding.
Tuesday, a budget amendment, supported by Micozzie and state Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, passed in the House, restoring Accountability Block Grant money to its current level of $100 million. Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget didn't include the grant, and the Senate restored $50 million of that as part of a $500 million increase in the overall budget.
Accountability Block Grants help fund kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs and cushion district budgets. Micozzie said if the grant funding sticks through negotiations, it would restore $725,000 to the Upper Darby districts, which had a $13 million shortfall this year.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, has said the governor rolled funding for Accountability Block Grants into other line items that fund school districts. Doing so, Eller said, "allows for school districts to prioritize their funding into areas they believe best serve students in their local area."
In the 2010-11 budget, funding for the Accountability Block Grants was $254.5 million.
Also still being debated is proposed funding for distressed schools, which the Senate set at $50 million in its budget proposal. Davidson said the districts that would qualify for this money have not been identified.
Proposed funding levels for public education have triggered a belt-tightening in local districts, notably in Upper Darby, where potential cuts to the arts drew the attention of alumna and comedienne Tina Fey.
State Rep. James Roebuck Jr., D-Philadelphia, chairman of the House Education Committee, said saving arts programs amidst the cuts will help students succeed, especially those who struggle in other areas.
“When they’re involved in music and art, there’s a great leveling experience that puts all students at a point where they can demonstrate what they can do, demonstrate excellence and that enhances their ability to learn,” Roebuck said.
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