Zahorchak: PA Could Lose ARRA Money if It's Not Invested Right

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania must properly use federal recovery funding to continue its targeted investments in student achievement and to avoid local property tax increases, Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak said.

How Pennsylvania spends its initial share of federal recovery funds will determine whether the commonwealth will be able to compete for $5 billion in “Race to the Top” funds announced today by President Obama, the secretary added.

Zahorchak cautioned that a budget plan offered and approved by Senate Republicans would squander the opportunity to use stimulus funds to improve Pennsylvania’s schools and result in a $728 million hole in the state’s basic education subsidy when stimulus funds expire in two years. The Senate plan would set the stage for local tax hikes and school program cuts, ultimately putting Pennsylvania $1.2 billion behind the goals established in law last year as part of a six-year school funding formula.

“President Obama and Congress intended for states to use stimulus funding to bolster educational progress, not to allow for the siphoning of education dollars that would slow or halt that progress,” Secretary Zahorchak said.

Zahorchak said the Senate proposal undermines the purpose of federal stimulus funds for education, which are intended to increase educational investments rather than merely shift money to other parts of the state budget.

“Simply put, if we use stimulus funds now in the way Governor Rendell has proposed – and as federal officials intended – we could later reap hundreds of millions more to invest in student achievement,” he said. “But if we use those funds the way some lawmakers have suggested – to merely maintain the status quo instead of further advancing innovative education reforms – we will lose out, and so will our children.”

Governor Rendell’s proposed 2009-10 budget recognizes that education is, at its core, an economic development tool. The governor’s plan contains difficult cuts that will ensure a balanced budget overall, while continuing the commonwealth’s record investments in education as part of a long-term economic recovery strategy.

Governor Rendell’s education budget:

· Properly invests federal stimulus funds to avoid property tax hikes and teacher layoffs and to accelerate our gains in student achievement.

· Fulfills Pennsylvania’s commitment to year two of a landmark school funding formula meant to ensure all schools have the resources needed for student success.

· Builds on Pennsylvania’s momentum in several programs proven to increase student learning, including early childhood education, high school reform and increased instructional time.

“Adequate funding of our schools is always crucial, but perhaps never more so than during difficult economic times like these,” Secretary Zahorchak said. “The path we take in Pennsylvania’s education budget will determine whether we continue to build on our success or we stagnate while other states and nations move ahead.”

From Commonwealth Media Services

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