U.S. Sen. Bob Casey met with school children at Mahoning Elementary School and superintendents from five school districts in Carbon County on Monday, to discuss how the school districts used more than $18 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment (ATTA) funds to improve their schools.
The schools used the funds for a variety of purposes, including special education, educational technology and basic education needs.
After a warm welcome, Sen. Casey watched a demonstration by children using new computers that were purchased for Mahoning Elementary School with federal funding.
Mahoning Elementary School Principal Aaron Sebelin said that the school had six computers and used between $5,000 and $6,000 of the stimulus funds to purchase more computers, so there would be enough to outfit a classroom.
"We purchased laptops because they are mobile and can be used anywhere," said Sebelin. "The computers are used by different classrooms throughout the day."
Sebelin said that Mahoning Elementary received the computers first because the school already was wireless.
For this session, the children were working on Black History Month projects.
As the children went through the steps to access information, Casey looked over their shoulders while they clicked away to complete their tasks.
"I was struck by, and as I'm always struck by, how much of an impact the recovery bill has had and will continue to have on Pennsylvania," he said. "I mean not for just last year and next year, but the recovery bill will have a positive impact on Pennsylvania for generations. The money will run out within the next year, but a lot of the benefits to this legislation isn't just the recovery part of it, but the reinvestment part of it."
Casey said that when we invest in education, we invest in sciences and technology, broadband technology and better ways to educate our children, as well as research and development. He said that the benefits of those investments will be seen for many years.
"I've learned something from watching the children and I've learned some things to take back to Washington with me."
Casey was referring to the round table discussion he had with the school superintendents. Taking part in the discussion were superintendents Barbara Conway, Jim Thorpe; Frank Victor, Weatherly; Rosemary Porembo, Panther Valley; Carol Boyce, Palmerton; and James Kraky, Lehighton.
The senator noted that he wanted to meet with the schools superintendents for two reasons.
"One reason is to see how the ARRA funds helped school districts, because it was at the one year anniversary; especially because we know there will be a whole other year of it. Plus I want to hear your concerns about it or critiques about it," said Casey.
"The second reason I'm here is the 'No Child Left Behind' bill and the concerns you have with that; not only with the reauthorization of the act, but in addition to that, the president has set forth the 'Race to the Top' initiatives, and the concerns you have with that. It's a way for me to listen."
Boyce said that Palmerton did not apply for the funds. She explaned that sometimes the costs to meet federal reporting guidelines make it prohibitive for small school districts to apply for the funding.
Boyce said for Palmerton to implement the "Race to the Top" initiative, it would cost the school district nearly as much to comply with reporting guidelines as it would have received. She said for Palmerton to receive $100,000 to $200,000, the cost and the short time frame to apply for the funding and to implement the program, did not make it feasible for small schools.
Also making a plea for more funding was Conway, who said that it is extremely difficult for Jim Thorpe to meet the "No Child Left Behind" requirements because of the rapidly increasing enrollment. She noted that in the past 10 years Jim Thorpe had doubled its enrollment from 1,400 to 2,800 students, and that when the students come into the school, they already have individualized education plans which are a burden on small schools.
Kraky, of Lehighton, asked, "Do you see a continuation of federal monies coming to help school districts with financial responsibilities? We want more pre-K programs. We want more remediation and afterschool programs, but the reality is a shortfall in our budget of a couple of million dollars."
Kraky also noted that something must be done with the teacher tenure issue, where the unions in Pennsylvania have gotten so strong, it is nearly impossible to get rid of teachers who do not meet minimum standards.
Sen. Casey thanked the superintendents for their input and said that he would carry their concerns back to Washington.