School news

The proposed 2015-16 state budget is good news for the Corry Area School District.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's spending plan includes a historic investment in education and provides more than $1 billion in new funding and reforms for early childhood, kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, colleges and universities.

"As they are saying at the state level, the governor has taken a very bold step," said CASD Superintendent Bill Nichols. "This is a significant amount of money."

The budget represents the first phase in Wolf's goal of investing $2 billion in kindergarten through 12th-grade and early childhood education over the next four years. Funding to support this goal will be generated through the Education Reinvestment Act, which would impose a severance tax on natural gas extraction.

"There is money earmarked for most of the categories including special education, regular education and increasing money for unfunded mandates," Nichols said.

The governor's proposal for kindergarten through 12th-grade education includes:

• $6.13 billion in Basic Education Funding ($400 million increase, the largest in Pennsylvania history), along with accountability for school, educators and students.

• $1.15 billion in special education funding ($100 million increase).

• $20 million for Career and Technical Education and Equipment Grants as the first step in realigning Career and Technical Education to prepare students for high-skilled careers.

• $8 million for career counselors in middle and high schools.

• $9 million for dual enrollment requested from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) .

• An estimated $160 million in savings to school districts from Cyber Charter Reform.

 Wolf's budget also calls for the enactment of a new school funding formula by June 30, 2015, to take effect in the 2016-17 school year.

Wolf's spending plan calls for $3.8 billion in historic property tax relief, providing more than a 50 percent reduction in homeowner property taxes. Combined with the increase in funding for pubic education, these reforms will bring state's share of school funding above 50 percent for the first time since the early 1970s.

"This is very positive for us," Nichols said. "Corry taxpayers would benefit significantly."

According to figures released by the Erie County Assessment Office and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the city of Corry pays the fourth highest amount of taxes in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Combining the municipal, county and school taxes, the average $100,000 homeowner in the city of Corry pays $2,705 annually. The lowest, Springfield Township, pays $1,467. The highest is the city of Erie at $3,320.

"We have been one of the highest in northwestern Pennsylvania for the past 20 or 30 years," Nichols said.

CASD will also be able to save money through the governor's reform of cyber charter school funding. Based on the expenditure data, the plan would generate $160 million in savings for school districts.

"It does look very positive for education at this point," said CASD board President Doris Gernovich. "But we'll have to see how far it goes."

The proposed budget now goes to the Pennsylvania Legislature and must be voted on by June 30.

In Wolf's budget, he said the state of Pennsylvania has failed its 500 public school districts in the last five years.

According to a survey by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and School Business Officials that was published in the budget breakdown, 93 percent of public school districts reported staff reductions in the last five years — totaling 23,000 education jobs lost through 2012. Also, nearly three-quarters of the districts cut academic programs.

As a result of state budget cuts, 91 percent of school districts have raised taxes. Meanwhile, student achievement levels have fallen.

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