26 Apr Rendell Campaigns in Area for More School Aid (PA)

April 26, 2010

By: Dan Hardy
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

As New Jersey and other states make drastic cuts in education programs and staff, Gov. Rendell stopped by several schools in the Philadelphia suburbs on Friday to rally support for continued increases in state school spending.

In Kennett Square, Hatboro, and Doylestown, he asked school officials, students, and residents to "e-mail, fax or write a letter or make a phone call" in support of his proposed 6.4 percent increase in the state’s main subsidy for local schools.

When he first took office, Rendell said, "I pledged that I would be the lobbyist for the children of Pennsylvania, and . . . that’s what I’ve been." He has been making similar pitches in other parts of the state.

"I believe with all my heart and soul that it is our moral obligation to provide an educational system tha t will allow each and every child to reach his or her potential," he added.

Largely at Rendell’s insistence, lawmakers passed a budget last year that increased education spending, with the help of federal economic stimulus money. Rendell wants to increase funding by $355 million this year, using state money and the final part of the stimulus funds. That would lead to education gains and help districts largely avoid the kind of meltdowns seen in other states, he said.

The Democratic-controlled House has passed a budget with the education spending Rendell wants. The GOP-led Senate has not set a time frame for consideration. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The governor told school audiences that the state might have enough money this year to fund the budget without new revenues.

But to make sure, he called on the legislature to enact new taxes on the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and on cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Rendell’s proposed budget would fund the third year of a six-year plan to increase basic education spending by $2.4 billion, with much of the money going to districts that are underfunded.

One of those is the Kennett Consolidated School District, which would receive a 22 percent increase in basic education funding under Rendell’s budget proposal. The district would use the money to start a full-day kindergarten program.

Even so, Superintendent Barry Tomasetti said, this will be "a difficult budget year," with the district facing a $3.5 million funding gap. About 20 staff members could be cut and taxes could go up by over 3 percent, he said.

At the Upper Moreland Interme diate School, School Board President David Hakes said that without the proposed state funding, "we’d have to eliminate a program. It’s huge." And Superintendent Robert Milrod said of Rendell, "We’re very grateful. He’s been there for us."

Rendell said that the loss of state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak, who next month will leave his post to become superintendent in the Allentown School District, "will be felt, but he’s put in place such good programs and he has such good people working with him that I don’t think we’ll miss a beat." As for making the case for the budget, he said, "In the end, I am the person who is going to have to be the chief lobbyist."

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