Gaming Dominates State’s 2004 Session
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Legislators in the Keystone State took steps in 2004 to shift a greater portion of public school costs from local taxpayers to the state.
Legislation passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell allows slot-machine gambling at racetracks and property-tax reductions. The gambling revenue will finance the tax cuts, essentially substituting state money for the local money on which the state relies for precollegiate education.
The $23 billion fiscal 2005 budget, signed in July, includes $7.9 billion for precollegiate education, an 8 percent increase over fiscal 2004. It includes $200 million in accountability block grants, which are given to districts that adopt state-approved measures to improve achievement, such as smaller classes or all-day kindergarten.
For the first time, Pennsylvania lawmakers earmarked $15 million in state money to expand the state’s federal Head Start program. A 2-year-old tutoring program for students in districts that don’t make sufficient progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law got a funding boost, from $25 million in fiscal 2004 to $38 million in fiscal 2005.
In a bid to improve the teacher supply, Gov. Rendell signed a measure allowing retired teachers to return for a year to districts experiencing shortages, without losing their pensions.
The legislature also confirmed a new secretary of education, Francis V. Barnes. The lawmakers completed their 2003-04 session in November. The 2005-06 session convenes this week.
Vol. 24, Issue 16, Page 21