Blake Encourages Local Schools to Apply for Safety and Security Grants

SCRANTON, September 12, 2018 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today encouraged local school districts to apply for funding through a new state grant program designed to improve school safety.

The new School Safety and Security Grant Program, which was created as part of the 2018-19 state budget, will provide $52.5 million in grant funding to school entities for programs that address safety and security.

“The safety of our students, our teachers and our schools is paramount and this grant funding will certainly improve the security of our learning environments,” Blake said.  “I encourage all of our school districts and educational institutions to take advantage of this new program that will significantly upgrade school safety programs and procedures across the Commonwealth.”

Blake noted that eligible uses of the grant funding include hiring of school security officers; purchase of security-related technology; safety and security assessments; implementation of violence prevention curricula; counseling services for students; and other programs and services that improve school safety and security.

Per the grant program, each school district that submits a justifiable application to improve school safety for an activity not already supported through other state of federal funding sources shall receive a minimum grant allocation of $25,000 annually. There is also competitive grant funding available in the program to school districts, intermediate units, area vocational technical schools, charter schools and private residential rehabilitative institutions.

All applications must be submitted electronically through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) Egrants system PCCD’s Egrants no later than Friday, October 12. For more information on the grant program, visit www.pccd.pa.gov/schoolsafety. School officials should contact the PCCD Egrants Help Desk at 717-787-5887 with any questions.

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Sen. Blake, Rep. Flynn Announce Financial Watch Status Designation for Scranton SD

SCRANTON, June 23, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) and State Rep. Marty Flynn today announced that the Scranton School District has been designated in Financial Watch Status by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

The legislators were joined at a news conference in Scranton earlier today by Scranton School District Superintendent Dr. Alexis Kirijan, Scranton School Board President Bob Sheridan and Chief Financial Officer Gregg Sunday to discuss the implications of the designation and the actions PDE will likely undertake as a result of the designation.

“The entire purpose of the Financial Watch Status is for PDE to provide additional technical assistance and guidance to the district so the school board and the administration can better navigate difficult financial circumstances,” Blake said. “This designation will allow Scranton School District to make the best decisions to protect the interests not only of teachers and students, but for all citizens of the City of Scranton.”

Blake noted that the Financial Watch Status designation announced today is a standard procedure under PDE’s Early Warning System. Reports of financial data by the Scranton School District and other indicators necessitate this action by PDE under current statutes and regulations.

PDE sent a letter on Friday to Scranton School District to inform administrators of the designation and outlining the criteria which necessitated this PDE action. The Financial Watch Status designation is the third level of PDE’s Early Warning System.

Through the designation of Financial Watch Status, PDE will provide technical assistance to Scranton School District to help address its financial challenges. It will also conduct an independent review of the financial condition of Scranton School District.

“I am confident that through the direction of the PDE advisors and the Scranton School District leadership – together with the support of Senator Blake, myself and our elected and appointed partners – the best interests of our students, teachers, support staff and taxpayers will be served as we move forward,” Flynn added.

Blake said that in other circumstances, such as last year in the City of Erie where the school district was put under Financial Watch Status, additional state support for the district was awarded in an attempt to relieve fiscal distress.

Click here to read a copy of the letter that was sent earlier today to Scranton School District.

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Senate Hearing Focuses on Budget Impasse’s Impact on Schools

Harrisburg – October 28, 2015 – At the request of state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Phila.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a hearing on the devastating impact that the state’s 120-day budget impasse is having on schools across the state.

“While many of the budget dispute points remain unresolved, what is clear is that the consequences of this impasse are far-reaching,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee. “This hearing gives lawmakers a sense of how schools are handling the funding shortfall, and what problems they’ll face if this stalemate continues to drag on.”

Hughes added, “A growing number of schools have been cornered into borrowing money and taking out credit lines just to keep their doors open. Hopefully, this hearing’s focus on this worsening statewide financial crisis will encourage greater urgency, cooperation and compromise in the ongoing budget negotiations.”

During the hearing, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale testified that at least 27 school districts have taken out loans totaling more than $431 million. He projected that interest payments will total $30 million if the stalemate reaches mid-November.

Those who testified decried how the impasse has harmed students, depleted reserves and how taxpayers will be needlessly saddled with paying the interest on the growing number of loans and credit lines that schools are obtaining to keep their doors open.

Erie Public Schools Superintendent Jay Badams lamented that his district will need to borrow $30 million just to get through January.

“That’s $114,000 in wasted interest money that could have been used for so many badly needed educational expenses,” Badams said.

Dr. Joseph Roy, who serves as superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District in Northampton County, added that “choices at the state level continue to hammer school districts.” He said the diversion of funds to charter and cyber schools and a “punitive” approach to public education has blown up school expenditures.

Dr. Rula Skezas, who serves as superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District in Allegheny County, noted that even if the district receives its proposed funding it would still fall short of what it received during the 2011 school year. She said McKeesport has taken out a $5 million line of credit to make it to December. She said the district has already eliminated 110 staff positions to try and make ends meet.

Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said public, charter and private schools are already reeling from years of being underfunded. He noted that the Philadelphia School District has already borrowed $275 million during the impasse. Fran Burns, who serves as chief operating officer for the School District of Philadelphia, testified that the district has struggled to contend with a “structural deficit.”

Lamenting the impact on local working families who fund schools through property taxes, Boscola pointed toward an educational survey conducted earlier this year showing that nearly 75 percent of districts were planning to impose property tax hikes, 30 percent were planning on making additional program cuts, and 41 percent were making more staff cuts. She said the state has withheld approximately $3 billion in school funds since the budget impasse began in July.

Joining Boscola and Hughes at the Capitol committee hearing were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny), Andrew Dinniman (D-Montgomery), Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.) and Sean Wiley (D-Erie),

Those testifying included:

  • The Honorable Eugene DePasquale
    Pennsylvania Auditor General
  • Fran Burns
    Chief Operating Officer, School District of Philadelphia
  • Joseph Gorham
    Superintendent of Schools, Carbondale Area School District
  • Dr. Joseph Roy
    Superintendent of Schools, Bethlehem Area School District
  • Dr. Jay D. Badams
    Superintendent, Erie Public Schools
  • Dr. Rula S. Skezas
    Superintendent, McKeesport Area School District
  • Marjorie Neff
    Chair, School Reform Commission
  • Anthony Pirrello
    CEO, Montessori Regional Charter School of Erie, and Vice President of Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools
  • Matt Przywara
    Member, PASBO
    Chief Financial and Operations Officer, School District of Lancaster
  • Bill LaCoff
    President, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
  • Susan Gobreski
    Education Voters of Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Pearl English
    School Nurse, School District of Philadelphia

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Blake Accepting Applications for Valley Forge Military College Scholarship

SCRANTON, October 27, 2015 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today announced that his office is now accepting applications from local students interested in earning appointment to the prestigious Valley Forge Military Academy & College in suburban Philadelphia.

“As a proud son of a veteran of our armed forces, I know the value of the education, discipline and character instilled at the Valley Forge Military College,” Blake said. “I encourage any of our local students who are interested in enlisting in our armed services upon graduation to contact my office and apply to become my legislative appointment to The Military College of Pennsylvania.”

Valley Forge Military College awards one student appointment from each Pennsylvania legislative districts to the two-year military academy through a Pennsylvania Legislative Appointment Initiative.

Blake noted that the student who is selected as the 22nd District’s “Commonwealth Scholar” will receive guaranteed admission and a guaranteed partial scholarship to The Military College of Pennsylvania. A student awarded the Legislative Appointment Initiative Scholarship may receive the award for up to two years. The annual scholarship awards range from $12,000 to $18,000 per year.

To be considered as a Valley Forge Military Academy & College appointee, a student must carry a minimum 2.5 GPA, a combined SAT score of at least 1,000 (or 20 on the ACT).

For more information on the program or to obtain an application, call Senator Blake’s Scranton office at 570-207-2881.

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Blake Calls on Majority to Remain in Session and Finalize Overdue State Budget

SCRANTON, October 23, 2015 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today called on Republican leadership to keep the Senate in session until a state budget is signed by Governor Tom Wolf.

“I must make a strong appeal and an ardent request to my friends and colleagues in Senate Republican leadership not to recess the Senate until a state budget has been approved by votes in both chambers of the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Wolf,” Blake said. “The state budget impasse is moving toward 120 days. Majority leadership recessed the Senate and sent us home this summer and they have called us back into session on only 14 days since the impasse began on July 1.

Senate Majority leadership recently published the schedule of upcoming session days. The Senate is scheduled to be in session on October 26, 27 and 28 and will then recess to the call of the chair until November 16.

“The significant fiscal distress currently being imposed on our schools, on our human service providers and even on our for-profit small business community which provides essential services to persons with disabilities, warrants that we remain in session and conclude the legislative process that will constitute an approved, balanced state budget,” Blake added. “We need to remain at the negotiating table and do the job that all citizens of Pennsylvania elected us and sent us to Harrisburg to do: balance and approve the state budget.”

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that a balanced state budget be approved and signed into law by June 30 of each year.

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