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Philly's Senate Dems propose $300M extra for education

The funds would come from savings found in the current state budget and would not increase taxes, said state Sen. Vincent Hughes.

A GROUP OF state Senate Democrats proposed a budget yesterday that would boost education funding by $300 million for 2014-15 without a tax increase.

The funding was part of an overall budget proposal that offered $1.1 billion in additional revenue and savings, said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The Democrats' proposed increase comes as Gov. Corbett is expected to present his budget next week. It is a "down payment of a billion-dollar increase that we need to have over the next three years," said Hughes, surrounded by members of the Philadelphia Senate delegation inside district headquarters in North Philadelphia.

"Our children's education is in crisis right now," said state Sen. Shirley Kitchen. "It is one of the worst situations that we have experienced as legislators."

The funds would pay for all-day kindergarten, pre-K programs and charter-school reimbursements, among other initiatives, Hughes said.

The Senate Democratic Caucus plan would restore cuts made by Gov. Corbett:

*  $100 million for Accountability Block Grant.

*  $85 million in charter reimbursements.

*  $50 million for tutoring.

*  $40 million for early learning.

*  $25 million for special education.

The proposed $85 million in reimbursements would "take the weight off our school district here in Philadelphia and other school districts across the commonwealth that have lost so much as a result of the wrong direction and the wrong priority," Hughes said.

Sarah Clark Stuart, whose daughter attends the magnet school Science Leadership Academy, laid out staffing shortages there and said the school "is operating on less than a shoestring budget," losing its vice principal, librarian, Spanish and science teachers and support staff.

"What's being dished back to them by insufficient funding is shameful," Stuart said. "I'm counting on all elected officials to step up and find the money that is needed . . . for all schools in Pennsylvania."

Education funding was one of 10 policy ideas the officials proposed. The others included: Medicaid expansion ($400 million), modernizing wine and spirits stores ($125 million), halting double payments to charter-school pensions ($85.5 million) and enhanced tax collection ($55 million).