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OPINION: Let’s Work Together to Rescue Students Stuck in Failing Schools

Recognizing that a ZIP code should never determine the quality of a child’s education, we are excited that Pennsylvania’s Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro once again affirmed his support for initiatives like our Lifeline Scholarships that would give struggling students and their families much-needed access to a better education.

In an interview with Fox News regarding education and school choice, the governor said, “Every child of God deserves a shot here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and one of the best ways we can guarantee their success is making sure every child has a quality education.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Our Lifeline Scholarship program is simple. Parents with school-age children (kindergarten through 12th grade) who attend a low-achieving public school will be eligible to receive a scholarship to offset costs associated with choosing an alternative academic setting and curriculum that meets their child’s needs.

Despite what opponents claim, Lifeline Scholarships will not take money away from our public schools. No public school money will be used to fund Lifeline Scholarships. The program will be funded entirely by a separate source of state revenue.

A high-quality education is key to achieving the American Dream. We cannot expect our kids to thrive as adults, as parents, as workers, or as community leaders if we do not give them a solid foundation to build upon.

Lifeline Scholarships will be one of the most impactful educational reforms in Pennsylvania history, with the ability to change the trajectory of the lives of thousands of kids and their families.

During his campaign last year, our governor said he “favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.”

Our kids cannot afford to wait any longer. We look forward to working with Gov. Shapiro to make this life-changing reform happen!

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State Agency Has Years of Unspent Funds that Total Nearly $100 Million

Most Pennsylvanians would agree that $100 million is a lot of money.

State Rep. Clint Owlett grilled state officials with the Department of Community and Economic Development last week about nearly $100 million in unspent funds in that agency’s coffers.

The unspent money is part of the DCED’s budget that gets doled out to businesses that apply for various grants.

“Why is your department holding on to these prior years’ money?” asked Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford). “An overarching concern is we appropriated money every year. You’re sitting on almost $100 million in lapsed funds, some of it going back 15, maybe 20 years.”

Acting DCED Secretary Rick Siger said, “The vast majority of the $100 million is obligated grants. Because of the nature of business. Business does not work on the government fiscal year.”

Owlett shot back, “I’m from business so I understand.”

Siger added, “They’re going to spend the money when they spend it. Most of these projects are on a reimbursement basis. They file the reimbursement. We pay it out, so we have to have those dollars available to pay out.

“The second thing is, I do want to look at some of these older grants. I was not aware of one from 2005 and understand what our process is to reprogram that money.”

Owlett said the lawmakers often argue about spending $500,000 and the DCED has  “lapsed year funds and we have businesses that could really use it. If it’s claw back money, great. Let’s repurpose it for use and figure out a way to do that.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) said, “It’s concerning that at the same time that DCED is sitting on nearly $100 million in unspent funds from prior budgets, the agency is also requesting new spending. DCED owes it to the taxpayers to use these funds as intended or return them to the General fund.

“Instead of depleting our budget reserves and the Rainy-Day Fund in the Administration’s budget, we need to focus on the positive, common-sense changes that can be made to help address Pennsylvania’s structural deficit,” she said. The structural deficit is more than $2 billion.

Gov. Josh Shapiro laid out a $44.4 billion budget for 2023-24. The DCED is requesting $191,414,000.

The DCED helps new businesses start and existing businesses grow. It’s also involved in workforce development and training, and services to local governments. It’s also involved in community planning, weatherization and other programs.

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