If Gov. Tom Corbett gets legislators to agree to sell off the state liquor system and create a $1 billion educational block grant program, Lehigh Valley schools could see $49.7 million over four years.
“Let’s get Pennsylvania out of this outdated system of selling alcohol once and for all, and reinvest the proceeds into Pennsylvania’s future — our children,” Corbett said today. “Selling liquor is not a core function of government; education is.”
Corbett said he wants to fund the Passport for Learning Block Grant with the proceeds from selling off the state liquor stores, distributing money to districts over four years.
It would mean $17 million over four years for the Allentown School District, $7.94 million for the Bethlehem Area School District and $5.1 million for the Easton Area School District.
Corbett announced the grant proposal as part of his budget address last week. Corbett’s 2013-14 spending proposal increases basic education subsidy by $90 million in addition to the grant.
Districts would have to use the grant money in four initiatives: school safety; “Ready by 3,” a program that ensures all students are on grade level by third grade; individualized learning programs ;and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
A lot of ‘ifs’
Bethlehem Superintendent Joseph Roy said he appreciates that Corbett is recognizing the areas as important educational focuses. But he wishes the governor would back it up with ongoing funding rather than a one-time infusion of cash hinging on the sale of the state liquor system.
“They have the right target but they’re not providing the resources to really get there,” Roy said.
Roy and Parkland School District Superintendent Richard Sniscak both noted the block grant is a Corbett proposal that needs to garner support from lawmakers.
“This may not pass muster by the time the final budget in June is adopted,” said Sniscak, whose district would see $2.6 million over four years. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ associated with this proposal now.”
Corbett is ambitiously tackling both the sale of the liquor store and pension reform in a short time, Roy said.
“I don’t know that there is any real hope that this liquor store sale will happen by June,” he said.
If everything falls into place school districts will have to be careful how they use the money.
“We’d have to treat it almost like stimulus money,” Sniscak said, adding Parkland hasn’t yet explored how it could use the money. “You’d have to use it for one-time expenditures.”
Bethlehem wouldn’t use it to expand a program knowing it would have to just cut it after four years, Roy said.
Bethlehem could use the grant to upgrade technology or make schools safer with better camera systems and access doors, Roy said. It could pay for teachers’ professional development.
“The money would be helpful,” he said. “We could provide good uses for it.”
Corbett selected STEM as a focus of the grant to help Pennsylvania’s growing economy, the governor said. Options for students in grades 6-12 would include career explorations, programs that allow students to gain technical skills and partnerships with post-secondary education and training programs, state officials said.
There’s also a focus on elementary education. The state suggests schools invest in quality kindergarten and enrichment programs that promote reading and math achievement.
Another option for districts would be to create self-paced customized learning plans for students based on their proficiency in academic standards.
Allentown Superintendent Russell Mayo and Easton Area Superintendent Susan McGinley were not available for comment.
LIQUOR MONEY FOR SCHOOLS
Under a Gov. Tom Corbett proposal to spend liquor privatization proceeds on education, according to statistics provided by the governor, area school districts would receive the following amounts over four years:
Bangor Area: $1,939,985
Bethlehem Area: $7,984,380
Easton Area: $5,183,650
Nazareth Area: $1,934,550
Northampton Area: $2,624,045
Pen Argyl Area: $1,000,270
Saucon Valley: $681,860
Wilson Area: $1,175,035
Catasauqua Area: $873,145
East Penn: $3,296,855
Northern Lehigh: $1,225,770
Northwestern Lehigh: $992,260
Salisbury Township: $438,620
Southern Lehigh: $670,020