Special Education to Receive More Funding In Pennsylvania

In a final budget proposal before re-election, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett will call for new funding for special education, scholarships for higher education, teacher training and curricula. Mr. Corbett’s press secretary Joy Pagni, says the proposed $240 million grant, called Ready to Learn, would provide schools with funds to train teachers and develop curricula but not pay teachers salaries.

Mr. Corbett describes the money as “highly target, results-oriented, performance-based funding” and says that high-performing schools will have more options for using the grant. According to Pagni, Mr. Corbett will also propose an additional $20 million for special education funding that has remained at a level $1.026 billion for six years, and will call for basic education funding to remain at the current $5.5 billion level. Under the proposal, Higher Education Universities in the State System like Slippery Rock University and California University of Pennsylvania as well as state schools like Penn State will receive the same funding as in the current year.

Karen Langley of the Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau reports that Mr. Corbett will share his plans for the creation of a $25 million post-secondary scholarship fund for Pennsylvania students attending in-state colleges, universities, or trade schools. Students who meet academic standards and have family incomes up to $110,000 will be eligible for scholarships up to $2,000.

Democrats and teachers unions have vigorously criticized Mr. Corbett’s handling of education funding, particularly in the sharp decrease in subsidies that accompanied the end of federal stimulus money in his first budget. Legislative Democrats again have called for significant increases in state money for schools, with Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, saying last week that education should receive an additional $250 million to $300 million next year.

Teachers unions were happy with the proposal for an increase in special education funding. The Special Education Funding Commission says the money should be dispersed in a way that considers the number of special education students and the range of their needs, as well as poverty levels, property taxes and whether or not the district is small and rural.

Mr. Corbett’s budget secretary says this is the first new investment in special education in six years. They have plans on releasing funds “that’s consistent with the special education commission report”.

For years, the state has allocated funding for special education without regard to the number or needs of students receiving services in particular districts. But the proportion of such students varies widely from the statewide rate of 15.2 percent, dropping to less than 10 percent in some districts and surpassing 25 percent in others.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and the Education Law Center praised the recommendations when the report was released.