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We are pleased to have with us today, Representatives from one of the schools that has received an Excellence in Education Award. Students, Amira Ellison and

Hoang Le along with their teacher, Judd Pittman, and their principal, Marisol Craig, from Harrisburg’s Math Science Academy, welcome, and congratulations on your achievement.

We have worked to strengthen teacher evaluations to ensure great teachers in every classroom, and improved testing that better measures what a student is learning. These improvements are a result of collaboration with and input from superintendents, administrators and teachers. Our goal was to listen to - and benefit from - the experts in education so we could put the best methods into practice.

As we increase education spending, we are making certain that more of that money goes where it will do the most good, directly to our kids.

At every level, from Early Childhood to high school and beyond, every dollar we spend is an investment in the future of our commonwealth. Because of these strong reforms, I am pleased to announce today the next phase of my Ready to Learn education agenda, which includes strategic investments at all levels of education.

This budget starts with our youngest, investing an additional $10 million

in Pre-K Counts to allow more 3- and 4-year-olds to enter high quality early learning programs. This funding, combined with the recent $51 million we were awarded in the federal Race to the Top grant for early learning, means that Pennsylvania will continue to provide some of the best early childhood education programs in the nation.

For K-through-12, I am excited to announce the Ready to Learn Block Grant, $241 million in funding for school districts that focuses on student achievement and academic success.

It builds upon the strength of the Accountability Block Grant created many years ago by Speaker Sam Smith, bringing the total Ready to Learn dollars available for districts to $341 million in this budget.

This block grant is designed to ensure that every child is reading and doing math at grade level by the third grade, that students are getting the grounding they need in science and technology, and that a school is flexible enough to give tailored instruction to students who need it.

This block grant includes $1 million in targeted grants to help struggling schools meet their potential. The most obvious way is to link up with the top schools in a mentoring partnership, to gain from their experience and knowledge. These grants will make those school-to-school connections possible.

In order to embrace new, and customized, methods of learning, this budget will invest $10 million into the Pennsylvania Hybrid Learning Grant Fund. Ask our teachers, and many will tell you that hybrid learning produces great results and engages the interest of children and helps them to excel.

Of course, every school should always be a welcoming place for children with special needs, just as our whole state should be. School districts have not seen an increase in special education funding in six years. In this budget, I am proposing an increase of $20 million in special education funding, to make sure that every child has a chance to succeed.

As we focus on early childhood and K-12, we also need to ensure that once our children graduate, they are prepared not only to enter the workforce, but also to achieve post-secondary learning opportunities on their journey to a career.

We all know post-secondary degrees are costly and sometimes out of reach as students and their families worry about debt. With this budget, we will launch the Ready to Succeed Scholarship program, which will provide an additional $25 million for middle income students who want to earn a two- or four-year degree.

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