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Pennsylvania

Gov. Wolf's education budget proposal bolsters workforce development programs

Jamie Martines
| Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, 4:03 p.m.

Job training and college readiness were highlights of Gov. Tom Wolf's budget address Tuesday as he proposed a $40 million investment in a new program intended to bolster career and technical education programs across the state.

The governor name-checked Amazon and touted previous state investments in infrastructure and industry as he promoted the new workforce development program, called PA Smart.

"Businesses don't invest in states that don't invest in education, infrastructure or job training," Wolf said in the address. "We're doing all of these things, and I am hopeful Amazon will come here, build here, and expand here."

The PA Smart program is intended to coordinate a "one-stop shop" for resources on workforce development efforts across the state. The funding would bolster programs related to STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — with a boost to computer science programs at all grade levels.

The proposed $225 million education spending plan includes an additional $10 million in funding for traditional career and technical education programs through the Department of Labor and Industry, supporting apprenticeship programs and industry partnerships.

"Anyone in our state who's willing to put in an honest day's work deserves a shot to make a good living — and by investing in these programs, we can give them a chance to gain the skills they need to do it," Wolf said.

President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association Dolores McCracken called the proposed investments in career and technical education "a home run."

"Now more than ever, businesses are looking for students with technical skills, and they're willing to hire these well-trained kids right away," McCracken said in a statement. "That's why these kinds of programs have always been a good investment."

Wolf's plan also includes a $100 million increase in basic education funding, which covers operations and instruction at public schools, as well as a $20 million increase in special education funding. Early childhood education programs such as Pre-K Counts and Head Start could see a combined $40 million increase in funding.

"What's not to like? He is continuing to make children a priority by asking for increases in basic, special and pre-K education," Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville, said of the governor's plan. "He's helping people with autism and intellectual disabilities get state services sooner."

Though members of the education community were generally satisfied with the proposed increases in education funding, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said in a statement that public schools "will continue to face huge increases in costs outside of their control such as pensions and special education," even with the funding boost.

The association predicts that districts across the state could see an increase in mandated pension costs of about $150 million, while special education costs could increase by about $260 million. The proposed increases would not fully cover those cost increases, the association said in a statement.

The governor's proposal also included a $15 million increase in funding for the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education, which includes 14 state universities including nearby California, Indiana and Slippery Rock.

Senate Republican leadership was receptive to the governor's education budget proposals.

"The budget is a work in progress, but we are optimistic in seeing a number of shared priorities, including education funding," Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said in a statement following the address.

Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, also weighed in, reiterating the need to bolster job and education opportunities.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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