Rapp Questions Funding Priorities

WESB/WBRR News Director

Governor Ed Rendell's budget includes a proposal to eliminate community education councils, which offer post-secondary education including, undergraduate and graduate degrees; business and industry training; and noncredit courses for personal growth.

The amount that was cut for the programs was $2 million, while the governor wants to add $5 million to the budget for community colleges.

During a House hearing Wednesday, Representative Kathy Rapp asked Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak about community colleges in this area.

"I'm sure you're aware of how many community colleges are north of (Interstate) 80?" Rapp asked Zahorchak.

"Mm. Hm," he said.

"And there are …?" she asked.

"Well, there are, um, community college extensions," he said, "but north of 80 I don't think there's a community college present."

"Correct," Rapp said. "But we do have the higher education councils" and the community education councils.

Rapp said she thinks this part of the education budget is unfair to rural Pennsylvania. She also debunked the notion that expanding broadband access to rural Pennsylvania will solve the problem, noting "we've been hearing that for years."

"That's fine if people in rural Pennsylvania even have a computer," Rapp said. "We have many people living Warren, Forest Elk, Potter (counties) who do not have a computer in their home, let alone broadband in their home to be even able to take a course online," she said.

Rapp also talked about the proposed graduation competency testing program that would cost $171 million. She said, among other problems with the proposal, she doesn't know one member of the General Assembly who's in favor of the testing.

"Please tell me that out of all that money for graduation competency testing ... that we couldn't find $2 million somewhere in the Department of Ed. budget to continue these programs in rural Pennsylvania that helps rural P-A," she said.

Zahorchak agreed that bringing more educational opportunities to rural Pennsylvania should be one of the state's highest priorities.

But he used the Austin School District in Potter County as an example of even the smallest of districts being able to take advantage of the latest technology.

"It's illustrative of what every county has going into their schools," Zahorchak said.

Rapp did agree that the state should be moving to other options, but there needs to be a transitional plan.

She said they have to make sure "that we don't just cut off something today and expect something else to start tomorrow."

Kris Kronenwetter, Executive Director of the Community Education Council of Elk and Cameron counties, Helene Nawrocki,of the Potter County Education Council and Joan C. Stitzinger, Executive Director Warren/Forest Higher Education Council testified in front of the House Education Committee.


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