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Opinions vary on funding of Pa. education

February 13, 2001|By STACEY DANZUSO, Chambersburg

Opinions vary on funding of Pa. education



CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - While some area legislators are praising Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's proposed budget for its increase in school spending, local administrators say the funding is not enough.

Ridge's proposed 2001-2002 budget, released last week, included an average 10 percent increase in special-education funding and incentive funding. That amounts to a $78.3 million increase statewide for special education and a total of $37 million in incentive grants.

"In the past, the governor has been generous with the education budget. I had no idea the increase would be this much," said state Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Waynesboro, whose district includes the Waynesboro, Tuscarora and Greencastle-Antrim school districts.

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Waynesboro, said the $8.7 billion education package was the cornerstone of the total budget.

"Pennsylvania's children must receive a quality education if they are to compete in the high-tech 21st century marketplace. We recognize that and more importantly, this budget reflects that position," he said.

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But area superintendents are not as happy.

P. Duff Rearick, superintendent of Greencastle-Antrim schools, said the funding is helpful, but the state still needs to kick in more.

With a 3.8 percent increase in basic-education funding, Rearick said that is roughly a cost-of-living adjustment.

"We're growing in student population and special-needs population. The state has increasingly contributed a smaller percentage of the budget," he said.

State aid accounts for about 34 percent of the district's budget.

"I don't think Pennsylvania is meeting its obligations, but we'll use it," he said. "On the positive side, at least the governor is increasing funding."

Fleagle, who is a member of the House Education Committee, said the additional state incentives could also bolster local districts' budgets.

"The governor has used grants in the past to give incentive to improve, whether it be daily attendance to improving on standardized test scores," he said.

This year, several Franklin County schools received state incentives for improving their Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores.

State Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, said he hopes Ridge's increase in special-education funding is a trend he will continue.

"Special education costs have gone up, especially when districts have to complete Individual Education Plans for every student," he said.

He said he would like to see if he could get more money placed in the budget for the Chambersburg school district.

"It's always hard to try and see the budget get raised once he has made his recommendation," Coy said.

Chambersburg will see a 2.81 percent increase and an 8.73 percent increase in special-education funding.

About 16 percent of Chambersburg Area School District students are in special education.

"The increase is not covering the increase in what their Individual Education Plans are calling for, mainly in the area of personal care assistants," said Edwin Sponseller, superintendent of Chambersburg Area Schools.

Fannett-Metal School District Superintendent Dana Banker said it wasn't the district's 2.04 percent general education funding increase or the 8.01 percent increase in special education funding that disappointed him the most, it was the elimination of the small districts subsidy.

With enrollment under 600 students, Baker said the district received $46,000 on top of its general funding last year.

He said small districts face a burden because they don't receive the same bulk discounts on textbooks and other items larger districts are able to capitalize on.

"Without the subsidy, there is no way we will be able to keep pace with normal increases in cost," he said.

Baker said the district will have to cope with the drop in funding by limiting expenses.

"The bottom line is you have to align your expenditures to match your income. Any loss of funding is not a positive impact," he said.

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