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Pa. Education Secretary champions funding

June 16, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CASD administrators complete leadership training

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak says he'll approach people sitting on a park bench and talk to them about the importance of funding education if given the chance.

On Tuesday, Zahorchak remarked on the budget debate under way in the state capital during an address to Chambersburg Area School District administrators. He encouraged them to advocate for increased funding he says would further close "an adequacy gap."

"In a democracy, raise your voices. ... This is the time to do it," Zahorchak said.

Zahorchak talked about how the state "owes $2.5 billion in investments" for teachers, resources, professional development and programs as part of a six-year plan to improve schools.

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The Pennsylvania Senate last month passed a proposal that would use stimulus money to temporarily infuse basic education funding, and Zahorchak shared concerns that the stimulus dollars would expire in two years and create a funding shortfall. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives rejected the Senate proposal, but has yet to put forth its own ideas.

When asked what he felt must be funded in 2009-10, Zahorchak listed several investments like early childhood education, full-day kindergarten and dual enrollment, which is when students can take college classes while still in high school.

"Any retractions in programs would be devastating on this state and economy long-term. ... (Education) is the only way to make sure we're insulated from the next economic downturn" by preparing a strong work force, Zahorchak said.

He argued that quality education means fewer people in prisons, and fewer dependent on drugs and alcohol.

"Investing in a child's basic education means that child can be prepared to go into an apprentice trade or college," Zahorchak said.

Today's children will either become productive citizens or depend on government assistance for 50 years, he said.

He echoed concerns of other school leaders who say state cuts will translate into program cuts at the school level or property tax increases locally.

"We've been doing everything we can to make state investments increase," Zahorchak said, highlighting gaming revenue that gets turned into property tax relief.

The cost of education increases every year because things like health-care premiums, retirement payments, salaries and energy system costs all increase, the education secretary said. Also, the state financially short-changed education in the first place, he said.

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