This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
On March 25, Governor Ed Rendell proposed several new statewide programs aimed at raising student achievement while providing tax relief for property owners. The proposals will give school districts $1.3 billion over three years in new funds for specific education initiatives and $1.5 billion in property tax relief.
According to Education Week magazine, Pennsylvania ranks third from the bottom among states in making sure school funding is distributed equally across communities. The Rendell plan would increase the state’s share of total school spending from 35 percent to 50 percent.
In the first year of this three-year program, the Philadelphia School District would receive a boost of over $145 million in new education funds.
The General Assembly now must consider these proposals. Because Rendell vetoed the school subsidy line item in the balanced budget that passed earlier in March, there is currently no state education budget.
Harrisburg’s political leadership faces a deadline of June 30 for action.
In addition to his proposed "education investments," Governor Rendell has proposed a 2.5 percent increase in funding for basic education. However, the increases vary by school district.
For the first time in several years, Rendell calls for the state to use updated enrollment figures in the subsidy formula. As a result, districts that have increasing enrollments will get increases greater than 2.5 percent. Districts that have shrinking enrollments will get increases less than 2.5 percent. No district will receive less state support in 2003-04 than they did in 2002-03.
Here is a summary of Rendell’s proposal (for information about how his plan would be financed, see related article).
EDUCATION INVESTMENT FUNDS
Rendell has proposed creating three new funds to support education improvements. All of the programs are phased in over a three-year period.
Early Childhood Education Investment Fund
Pre-kindergarten — This is a voluntary program for the 146 poorest school districts. It is expected to serve 40,000 students by the end of three years.
Full-day Kindergarten — All school districts are eligible for funding to begin optional full-day kindergarten programs.
Smaller Classes, K-3 — This program, open to all school districts that have classes of more than 20 students in grades K through 3, provides money to reduce class sizes to 17 students per teacher.
Student Achievement Fund
Tutoring — This program will serve all students in grades K to 11 who score "below basic" on the state’s PSSA tests. Programs would provide three hours per week of tutoring during the school year plus a six-week summer program.
Professional Development — This program funds professional development for teachers in the 146 school districts where more than 35 percent of their students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
Math and Reading Coaches — Also available to the same 146 school districts, this program provides one reading or math coach for every 600 students in grades K-9.
Family Resource Centers — These centers are available to districts where more than 60 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Centers will provide connections between families and social services, including health care, which can help students succeed in school.
Rural Math and Science Teachers — 65 rural school districts will be able to supplement the salaries of math and science teachers to aid recruitment efforts.
Science Laboratories and Instructional Materials — This program will provide $50 million to help school districts update equipment and supplies used to teach science. All school districts are eligible to apply under a competitive grant process.
Rewarding Results Fund
Rewards for High Performance — Pennsylvania’s best- performing schools could share rewards totaling $30 million by the third year. Schools earn rewards for students’ academic success, high graduation and attendance rates, and success at closing achievement gaps.
School Improvement Grants — These funds are intended to support struggling schools. To get grants, schools will have to apply and present detailed improvement plans.
Distinguished Educators — This funds the training and deployment of 200 teachers and administrators to help struggling schools raise student achievement.
These proposals focus on raising student achievement at struggling schools and commit Pennsylvania to meeting the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
All schools will be held accountable for making adequate yearly progress in student academic achievement, graduation and promotion rates, and staff and student attendance.
The proposal includes new accountability systems for administrators and teachers:
Principals — The proposal seeks to "rethink" the role of principals, providing them with higher salaries and more power over their schools in exchange for elimination of tenure and greater accountability for school performance.
Superintendents — Like principals, superintendents would have five-year, performance-based contracts with their school districts.
Teachers — The proposal offers career ladders for teachers, replacing salary schedules that are based primarily on years of service. The governor’s goal is to reward the best teachers with the highest salaries. Early versions of the proposal did not state how schools would evaluate teachers to determine the steps of the career ladder.