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Pennsy leaders must find compromise on school aid

August 15, 2003

Half of Pennyslvania's schools aren't making enough progress to meet the condition of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a fact that Gov. Ed Rendell says justifies passage of his $400 million school-improvement package.

Maybe so, but during this past session lawmakers gave us the impression they wouldn't have approved a cure for cancer if it involved a tax increase. Both sides need to find a compromise that will allow the release of $4 billion in basic state school subsidies by the start of school in just a few weeks.

The report which highlighted the state's educational deficiencies was released Tuesday by the state's Education Department. It found that of the 2,786 schools in the state, 1,428 - about half - had not made progress sufficient to meet federal standards.

Those standards require all children to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. To make progress toward that goal, state officials required that 35 percent of students be proficient in math and 45 percent in reading on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.

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To help meet those goals, Rendell has proposed new preschool programs, smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and more tutors.

All of this would require a state income tax increase from 2.8 percent to 3.75 percent, though the administration agreed this week it could live with 3 percent. Property taxes would be decreased at the same time.

However, with the state's per- pupil spending ranking No. 14 in the U.S., Senate Republicans don't feel any tax increase is necessary.

No so, said Rendell, who said this week that even without his initiatives, if schools are to get any increase at all, new revenues will have to be found.

Eventually the federal government will push the state to do whatever is necessary to improve test scores. At that point lawmakers will have to choose between cutting other programs or raising taxes.

In the meantime, Rendell and state lawmakers need to put together an agreement that will allow basic state school subsidy cash to go to the school districts. Neither side will get all that it wants, but they can forge a compromise if they remember that it's not all about them, but about the state's schoolchildren.

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