Carl M. Buchholz

is CEO of Blank Rome L.L.P.

David L. Cohen

is executive vice president of Comcast Corp.

Joseph A. Frick

is CEO of Independence Blue Cross

The future of our region's economic success depends on many factors: competitive tax rates, upgrades to our infrastructure, and high-quality schools that prepare every student for success in the workplace or college.

On the education front, the General Assembly and Gov. Rendell are working now to formulate a new plan to equitably distribute additional state funding to Pennsylvania's 501 public school districts.

The good news is that, over the last five years, Pennsylvania has seen an excellent return on its historic investments in full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, smaller classes, more challenging high schools, and other improvements.

Pennsylvania is one of only nine states to make significant gains in elementary-school reading and math since 2003, which shows we are moving in the right direction.

Yet, even with these gains, a stunning 30 percent of the students who graduate in the school districts in the four suburban Philadelphia counties cannot read and do math at the 11th-grade level. The region's employers pay the price for this skills gap in unfilled jobs, increased employee-training costs, and lost economic opportunity.

The problem is that too many of our region's school districts lack the adequate resources necessary to deliver a high-quality education.

The 2007 Costing-Out Report found a $4.6 billion shortfall. This means students in the majority of the state's school districts are missing out on the educational opportunities proven to boost students' achievement levels.

Why? Because schools lack sufficient funds to provide quality education.

To this end, Rendell has proposed a $2.6 billion plan to move school districts across the state toward the adequate funding targets determined in the costing-out report. The proposal places the state on a pathway to a more reasonable school-funding model, where the state appropriately shoulders 50 percent of public education costs.

In addition, this proposal mandates that a large percentage of these new state funds be spent to expand the proven programs that result in student success, especially for struggling learners.

This targeted funding is to be spent on early-childhood education, extra support for struggling students, more classroom time for teaching and learning, quality training for educators, improved curricula and courses, and smaller classes.

In our region alone, the costing-out study found that our school districts need at least $1.4 billion to ensure our students get the quality of education necessary to meet the expectations of our colleges and employers. Two examples of the shortfall in funding are:

The Norristown School District in Montgomery County is $3,000 per pupil short. Under the governor's proposal, this district would receive nearly $10 million in new state aid, cutting their funding gap more than a third.

The Bristol Township School District in Bucks County is $2,100 per pupil short. The governor's proposal pumps $9 million into the district, cutting its funding gap in half.

For the last few years, this region has seen solid economic growth. However, just like every region in the nation, we are dealing with the impact of a national recession, increased competition, and deteriorating infrastructure.

But there is one economic challenge that is of our own making - poorly prepared high school graduates from underfunded school districts. In large part, this problem is a result of the gradual decline in the percentage of state funding to our schools.

Our region's vitality and prosperity depend in large part on successful deliberations by state leaders to boost funding for schools in a fair and equitable manner and help close the school-funding gap within the next few years.

The governor's proposal is a significant step in the right direction.

To contact the authors, e-mail Joseph A. Frick at Joseph.Frick@ibx.com.