Gov. Tom Corbett made two public appearances today to sell the public and lawmakers on his desire to get the state out of the liquor sales business.
And he’s doing it by emphasizing who he wants to be the ultimate beneficiary from his privatization pitch.
“It’s time to get Pennsylvania out of what is clearly an outdated system of selling alcohol once and for all and reinvesting the proceeds from that one-time sale in the Pennsylvania future: our children,” Corbett said.
His comments made to the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and Pennsylvania Bankers Association and later at a Capitol news conference touched on other pressing needs of the state that were potential contenders instead of education.
Corbett said could have chosen to put the money into funding transportation needs. Or he said It could be put toward reducing the $41 billion unfunded liability of the two state pension systems.
But instead, he chose education – an area that saw a nearly $1 billion funding reduction two years ago as a result of the loss of federal stimulus dollars.
Corbett highlighted the $90 million increase he is proposing in his 2013-14 budget to raise the state’s investment in basic education to an all-time high of $5.5 billion. But he said that is in addition the $1 billion that is anticipated to be generated from the sale of the liquor system that he wants to put into a one-time Passport for Learning block grant program for schools.
“I suspect had I chosen transportation, the education people would have been screaming, ‘why didn’t you put it into education,’” Corbett said to the 250 people gathered for the chamber and bankers’ first annual Economic Forecast Summit at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel in Swatara Twp.
“But because I chose education, some people are being very cynical about why we chose it. But I think it’s the best place for it to go.”
Corbett said districts would receive the money with their eyes wide open that if they used it for something that carried an on-going expense, it would be up to them to cover that tab once the grant program expired in four years.
He proposes to limiting schools to spend the money on school safety, early learning, individualized education and/or improving science and math programs in middle and high schools.
Corbett shared that the Legislature has to weigh in on his proposal and could change how the proceeds get used from the sale of the liquor system.
“But I think it’s a good idea to invest it in the way we have suggested,” Corbett said.
Cumberland Valley School Board member Barbara Geistwhite was among those who spoke at the news conference in support of the block grant idea.
“I think this opportunity to look for innovative ways to fund children’s education is really a great step forward,” she said. “I also think it’s very important that we are allowed … to use these funds without a lot of strings to meet the needs of the children in each of the districts because our districts are not the same.”
Afterward, Harrisburg Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney said, “I’m hopeful that this will pass and our children will be able to benefit from it.”
She said funding for early childhood education, safety and science and math programs could all benefit the city schools. But in particular, she said funding for the science and math fields would allow the district’s Sci-Tech High to increase its course offerings as well as get more science, technology, engineering and math programs for other district students.
Knight-Burney said she had no issue with the linkage between the sale of the liquor system and education.
“I’m originally from Florida, and we’ve always had the wine (in groceries) and the privatization of liquor, so this doesn’t seem unreasonable to me… It’s a step in the direction that will benefit our kids,” she said.
The block grants are proposed to be distributed over four years, beginning in 2014-15 assuming the privatization plan passes this year or early next year. The money would be distributed based on a formula that takes into account enrollment, characteristics of the student population, and district wealth.
Districts would have to apply for the funds and get the state Department of Education’s approval for their plan for using the money. But Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said he anticipated a quick turnaround by the department in granting those approvals.
The following reflects the amount of money midstate districts are proposed to receive from the Passport for Learning block grant in 2014-15 and the second figure reflects the total they would be eligible to receive over the block grant program’s four life:
Big Spring – $306,943; $1,534,715
Camp Hill – $102,537; $512,685
Carlisle Area – $493,051; $2,465,255
Cumberland Valley – $441,348; $2,206,740
East Pennsboro – $279,019; $1,395,095
Mechanicsburg Area – $326,891; $1,634,455
Shippensburg Area – $418,495; $2,092,475
South Middleton – $176,997; $884,985
Central Dauphin – $852,660; $4,263,300
Derry Twp. – $210,976; $1,054,880
Halifax Area – $147,873; $739,365
Harrisburg City – $1,205,309; $6,026,545
Lower Dauphin – $349,722; $1,748,610
Middletown Area – $268,974; $1,344,870
Millersburg Area – $101,131; $505,655
Steelton-Highspire – $246,657; $1,233,285
Susquehanna Twp. – $232,148; $1,160,740
Upper Dauphin Area – $167,388; $836,940
Annville-Cleona – $159,235; $796,175
Cornwall-Lebanon – $452,436; $2,262,180
Eastern Lebanon – $214,365; $1,071,825
Lebanon – $898.953; $4,494,765
Northern Lebanon – $232,076; $1,160,380
Palmyra Area – $310,716; $1,553,580
Greenwood – $101,271; $506,355
Newport – $162,212; $811,060
Susquenita – $216,953; $1,084,765
West Perry – $322,674; $1,613,370
Northern York – $318,143; $1,590,715
West Shore – $640,285; $3,201,425