PA Senate Democrats & CDFI Network Announce $96 Million in Small Business Grants

PA Senate Democrats & CDFI Network Announce $96 Million in Small Business Grants

Statewide, Pa. – August 10, 2020 – The Pennsylvania CDFI Network and the PA State Senator Democrats today announced $96 million in grant awards under the COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance program. The small businesses that have been approved for awards span all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

“These grants and the relief they will provide are testament to what we can do when we prioritize the right initiatives,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “It is because of collaboration and a collective focus that today we were able to deliver help to the auto body shops, the barbershops, the beauticians, the pizza shop owners, the soul food establishments and other businesses across the commonwealth. And though we are gathering today virtually to recognize the positive impact these grants will have, it is critical to understand that there is still a great deal of need and must continue to direct resources and aid to our small business community to help it recover from the devastation of the pandemic.”

Main Street Business Assistance - Round 1 ResultsThe program is part of $225 million in statewide relief championed by the senate democratic caucus in June to support small businesses economically impacted by the pandemic. The first application round drew a strong response with nearly 24,000 applications.

“We’ve seen the impact of this pandemic-fueled economic crisis on the small businesses in our communities and in the immense response to the program in the first round of applications,” said Daniel Betancourt, President & CEO of Community First Fund and Chair of the PA CDFI Network. “The PA CDFI Network is grateful for the partnership of Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Legislature as we move quickly to get these resources into the hands of those most impacted by the crisis.”

Of the close to 5,000 small businesses approved in the first round of funding, 50% are historically disadvantaged businesses that have traditionally experienced discrimination when seeking financial services and financial products. Over 2,400 of the businesses are also in communities targeted for business investment by state government programs like Main Street and Elm Street.

“I could not be more proud or more grateful for the great work of DCED and Pennsylvania’s CDFI Network in delivering substantive, fair, equitable, need-based assistance to our state’s main street and historically disadvantaged small businesses.  Our program design and the accountability it provides to taxpayers and to our federal funders is a model for the nation,” Senator Blake (D-Lackawanna) said. “I appeal to the US Congress and to our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg to recognize the success of this program in assisting small businesses devastated by the pandemic and to invest further in the program so we can help even more of them.”

The program has targeted getting grants to small businesses with the greatest need and to be eligible to apply businesses had to have less than $1M in revenue and less than 25 employees. Grants ranged in size from $5,000 to $50,000 based on the revenue size of the business.   More than 2,300 of the grantee business owners are low-moderate income.

“Our business community has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and is in need of immediate assistance. The grant program is targeted to help small businesses manage costs, handle expenses, and stay in operation in this exceptionally difficult time,” said Senator Brewster (D-Allegheny). “Since COVID struck our state and debilitated our business community, I have been advocating for bridge grants and sought millions in aid for impacted businesses and workers.  The small business assistance grants are one of the tools we can use to bolster business, maintain jobs and help workers at a time of immense distress.”

More than two thirds of the approved awardees are women-owned businesses and 16 percent located in rural communities. The businesses represent industries that have been especially hard hit by the pandemic including retail, food and hospitality, health and wellness, and personal care.

Industry Applications Approved Amount  (Millions)
Restaurants & Other Eating Places 1,608

$25.80

Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages) 202

$4.63

Personal Care Services 1,001

$24.52

Other Amusement and Rec. Industries 180

$3.46

Totals 2,991

$58.41

“For minority and women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania COVID-19 didn’t create a crisis, it laid bare the crisis our minority entrepreneurs have been facing for decades,” House Democratic Finance Committee Chairman Jake Wheatley Jr (D-Allegheny) said. “While I’m glad to see the positive impact of these grants and I urge all local community businesses to apply for the next round of grants, we need to expand investment in programs like this because it’s long past time for the legislature to address the systemic flaws that are leaving too many marginalized people behind.”

The second grant application window for the relief funds opened today, August 10, and will remain open for 15 business days closing at 11:59PM on August 28.

“Our small business owners need our help and support,” said state Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester. “After limited or even no sales due to the virus for almost five months, it would be unfair to let them suffer alone without any intervention. These grants give our small businesses hope and, I am here with my democratic colleagues to provide them whatever help they need to address this pandemic. Our business owners, their employees, and their families deserve our assistance.”

In order to get funds to businesses in need as quickly as possible, the second application window will be the final opportunity to apply for the program. Qualified applicants not awarded in the first round do not need to reapply and will be rolled into the next round for consideration.

Eligible small businesses can apply online at pabusinessgrants.com or through any one of the 17 Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that are part of the Pennsylvania CDFI Network.

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 About the PA CDFI Network

The PA CDFI Network is a coalition of 17 PA-based community development financial institutions that primarily provide financing options for small businesses. The members of the coalition are as follows:

The Progress Fund (Counties Served: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Potter, Somerset, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland)

Bridgeway Capital (Counties Served: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Washington, Westmoreland)

Northside Community Development Fund (Counties Served: Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence, Washington)

 Metro Action (Counties Served: Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming)

Rising Tide Community Loan Fund  (Counties Served: Bradford, Bucks, Carbon, Columbia, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton)

ASSETS (Counties Served: Berks, Juniata, Lancaster, Mifflin, Snyder, York)

Community First Fund (Counties Served: Adams, Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadelphia, York)

Reinvestment Fund (Counties Served: All Counties)

PIDC Community Capital (Counties Served: Philadelphia)

Impact Loan Fund (Counties Served: Montgomery, Montour, Northumberland, Philadelphia)

Beech Capital (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery, Philadelphia, York)

West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia)

Enterprise Center Capital (Counties Served: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia)

Neighborhood Progress Fund (Counties Served: Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia)

Entrepreneur Works (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia)

Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wyoming)

United Bank (Counties Served: Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Union)

The members of the Executive Committee of the network are:

  • Daniel Betancourt, Community First Fund — Chair
  • James Burnett, West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution — Vice Chair
  • Lynne Cutler, Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (WORC) — Vice Chair
  • Leslie Benoliel, Entrepreneur Works — Treasurer
  • Mark Masterson, Northside Community Development Fund — Secretary
  • Chris Hudock, Rising Tide Loan Fund — Assistant Treasurer
PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.

The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.

“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”

The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.

In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.

The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:

  • The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
  • Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
  • COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
  • Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
  • Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
  • Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
  • Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
  • Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
  • Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
  • Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
  • Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
  • Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
  • Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
  • Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)

“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”

“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.” 

“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”

“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”

“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health.  I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”

“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”

“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”

“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”

“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”

“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”

“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”

“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”

“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority.  In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”

“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times.  What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses,  job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection  of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.   

 “We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work.  We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”

 “As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”

More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.

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Joint Legislative Hearing in Pittsburgh Focuses on Eradicating Blight

Wilkinsburg, August 4, 2016 – At the request of state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, a joint state Senate-House Democratic Policy Committee hearing was held today on efforts and resources to fight blight within our communities, including the successes and challenges of land banks.

“Blight is a scourge that impedes both business and residential interest in a community,” Costa said. “We must do what we can to give our municipalities the resources, tools and flexibility they need to quickly eradicate blight and begin revitalization efforts.”

Costa said blight poses health and safety risks, reduces neighborhood property values, drains municipal revenue on enforcement and maintenance efforts, and discourages community investment and growth.

 

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said “transforming dilapidated properties from community liabilities to revitalization linchpins must be our shared goal.”

Boscola added that Pennsylvania has approximately 300,000 vacant properties – many of them eye-sores. She said legislators should steer clear of “one-size-fits-all solutions” and give local government leaders the “flexibility to tailor revitalization efforts that fit their unique needs.”

State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), who co-chaired the hearing, said the state has passed several laws in recent years aimed at assisting local governments in blight removal and revitalization initiatives. He added that there are also numerous proposals under consideration in the legislature that would generate more funding for demolition and revitalization work and toughen penalties against absentee owners.

Costa said a 2012 law that established land banks provides an innovative way to acquire and ready properties for reinvestment. He pointed to the local Tri-COG Land Bank as a “promising program that numerous Allegheny county communities should look into.” Tri-COG recently received a pledge of $1.5 million in seed funding from the Heinz endowment.

A land bank acquires blighted properties, clears delinquent taxes and liens, and prepares the property for investment and revitalization – all aimed at returning the property to the tax rolls and productive use. A county or municipality must have a population of at least 10,000 to form a land bank. Local governments have the option of joining and must pay 5 percent of yearly delinquent tax collections to help fund the program.

Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Kyra Straussman lamented that a fourth of the city’s footprint is abandoned and vacant property that the government does not control.

“While our tax base is eroding, we are simultaneously directly paying millions in tax dollars annually to keep problem vacant and abandoned property just as it is,” she said.

Matt Madia, who serves as chief strategy and development officer for Bridgestone Capital investment program, discussed his firm’s revitalization work, including its $9.6 million effort to revitalize the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He said some of their business loans have resulted in new businesses occupying commercial space that would otherwise be vacant. He said providing this core business sector with its products and services helps make a neighborhood “welcoming and livable.”

Mark Mohn, vice-chair state Association of Realtors Legislative Committee, said rising property local taxes has worsened the blight problem by making home ownership less affordable. He said lawmakers should consider shifting the tax burden away from homeowners to more broad-based local and state resources.

“It’s time to stop picking the pockets of homebuyers,” Mohn added, suggesting that lawmakers should consider allowing bond referendums and Social Impact Bonds where municipalities can pay back outside investors for transforming blighted properties into productive ones.

Others who testified were: Cynthia Whitman Daley, policy director of the PA Housing Alliance; Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation; A. William Schenck, TriState Capital Bank Board Member, Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh; An Lewis, Director, Steel Rivers COG; Daniel Lavelle, board member, Pittsburg Land Bank; and Liz Kozub, Community Development coordinator, Turtle Creek COG.

Joining Costa, Gainey and Boscola were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), and Representatives Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence) and Paul Costa (D-Allegheny).

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$ 300 Million Education Common Core Mandate Threatens Graduation

No Legislative Oversight, Lack of Financial Backing Panned by Senate Democrats

Harrisburg, May 13, 2013 – A new unfunded education mandate now being quietly pursued by the Corbett administration will soon saddle school districts with a $300 million expense and threaten graduation for thousands of students across Pennsylvania, Senate Democrats said today at a Capitol news conference.

Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Sens. Judy Schwank, John Blake and Jim Brewster all expressed their displeasure and concerns about the proposed changes.

[hdvideo id=62 ]

“We are not opposed to the implementation of Common Core standards for Pennsylvania’s students,” Dinniman said. “But we are opposed to Common Core standards without adequate state financial resources for our schools so that all of our students have the opportunity to succeed under those standards, including those in financially distressed school districts.

“For the Commonwealth to increase standards without the adequate fiscal resources is a charade. It is a sham that will only lead to false hope,” Dinniman said.

Common Core standards are being sought by the state Department of Education as a way to determine proficiency and graduation eligibility.

According to Dinniman, the implementation of Common Core standards will result in an unfunded mandate of at least $300 million for local schools. There is no specified funding or plan to provide for the remedial instruction, the redesign of curriculum, or the project-based assessments for those who repeatedly fail the tests.

“The implementation of these new standards should be reviewed thoroughly by the General Assembly,” Costa said. “This whole new testing structure will cost taxpayers dearly and it is being implemented without a full understanding of the benefits for students, teachers, administrators and taxpayers.

“A complete explanation of what is being sought by the department is necessary before Pennsylvania schools put these new standards into play.”

Schwank, who represents the economically and academically struggling Reading School District, said the new testing will be particularly devastating to fiscally challenged schools.

“School districts like Reading, as well as many others around the state, are drowning in red ink now,” Schwank said. “These new mandates, without proper fiscal support, will make their financial plight even worse.

“There is certainly nothing wrong with increasing proficiency standards but students, teachers and schools must have resources to invest to address deficiencies.”

To implement new standards and testing procedures without adding dollars makes no sense, Blake (D-Lackawanna) noted. Especially, he said, after the Corbett administration has slashed basic education support by $900 million.

“To add new core testing procedures and a mandate at a cost exceeding $300 million after cutting education support is irresponsible,” Blake said. “The local property taxpayer is going to get squeezed and economically strapped schools and taxpayers will bear an even greater burden.”

Brewster said instead of implementing more tests and costs, educators and the Corbett administration need to step back and decide whether the current testing structure is constructive. He has proposed Senate Bill 823 to create a bi-partisan commission to recommend changes or a total scrapping of the current student testing procedures.

“My belief is we need to look at what we are doing with student testing and come up with a new, better approach that accurately reflects student, school, teacher and community performance,” Brewster said. “Today’s tests are flawed and the whole system is need of restructuring.”

Senate Democrats also lamented that the new Common Core tests involve 10 days of testing, which takes even more time away from traditional instruction.

They added that districts could receive a deeper financial bludgeoning if students fail to pass the tests.

The new Common Core standards will exacerbate the problem of teaching to the test, Senate Democrats said.