Gov. Tom Corbett proposes to make public schools a beneficiary of the proceeds reaped from his proposed liquor privatization plan.
Corbett said, in unveiling his plan at a news conference in Pittsburgh today, that the anticipated $1 billion generated from the sale of the retail and wholesale liquor licenses will be funneled into a “Passport for Learning” block grant program for public schools.
Schools would be limited to use the block grant funds for four purposes: enhancing school safety, individualized learning, promoting reading and math skills in early elementary grades and improving access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Calling the $1 billion block program to be doled out over four years unprecedented, Corbett said, “Passport for Learning is designed to enable school districts to invest in their schools and their students as they know best, to enrich the learning and academic excellence.”
But his plan isn’t being embraced in public education circles where he hasn’t won many friends since taking office in 2011.
Corbett has been attacked for cutting funding to public schools in his first budget by nearly $1 billion. Public school advocates said that has impacted schools’ ability to offer enrichment type programs that helped to raise student achievement.
His latest idea doesn’t make up for that in the eyes of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
“Linking liquor store privatization to school funding is just another way of holding students hostage to the governor’s political agenda,” said Mike Crossey, PSEA president, in a news release.
Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, who was among the cadre of lawmakers and others standing with the governor at the news conference, said the money for the block grants would be distributed based on student population in schools.
He also said schools would be limited to using the one-time block grant money for the four purposes that the governor stated, not ongoing operational costs.
He said he didn’t want districts to make the same “mistake” that they made a few years ago in using one-time federal stimulus dollars to cover operating expenses.
However, districts and teachers blamed that decision on the actions of state lawmakers and former Gov. Ed Rendell who chose to use the federal stimulus funding to prop up basic education support for schools.
Crossey said, “It’s nice that the governor has acknowledged that he created a school funding crisis, but our students shouldn’t have to count on liquor being available on every corner in order to have properly funded schools. We need to restore the nearly $1 billion in education cuts made by Governor Corbett with an adequate and sustainable funding plan, not with money that doesn’t exist.”
Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne County, also fired off a press release shortly after the news conference voicing skepticism about the governor’s plan and it’s linkage to public school funding.
“The governor’s fixation with privatization now includes a bizarre and unhealthy attempt to tie education achievement to what can only be described as a one-time alcohol funded stimulus package,” Yudichak said.
In spelling out the four uses of block grant money, Corbett said he met with public school officials at the Governor’s Residence recently and heard their concerns in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy.
“Children cannot learn where they do not feel safe.,” he said.
“What these educational leaders confront and need everyday in their schools and classrooms is to keep their students safe.”
Corbett said schools might use the money to add security measures or enrich school safety training or to bolster their partnerships with local law enforcement.
He said schools also could use the block grant funds “to enrich K-12 academic programs to ensure that our students have a solid academic foundation. It supports early learning opportunities to promote academic achievement in elementary reading and mathematics with a focus on what is known as Ready by (grade) 3.”
He said recognizing children learn at their own pace, the funding could also be used to customize student learning to help them achieve. Or schools could use it to buy equipment or establish career exploration activities, among other uses, to prepare them for careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“Passport for learning is designed to enable school districts to invest in their schools and their students as they know best to enrich the learning and academic excellence,” Corbett said.