Rapp Gives Governor's $19 Million Graduation Testing Mandate Failing Grades for Lack of Common Sense and Fiscal Responsibility
Serving as acting Republican House Education Committee Chair,Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Forest/McKean) raised several concerns regarding the governor’s proposed $19 million high school graduation test requirements during a Wednesday morning hearing where testimony was again presented by State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak.
If adopted, all Pennsylvania high school students would be required to pass a test demonstrating their proficiency in English, math, science and social studies in order to receive their diplomas.
“While I wholeheartedly agree with both the governor and Secretary Zahorchak that students need to have fundamental mastery of these subjects before entering the work force or higher education, I fail to see how requiring taxpayers to invest an additional $15 million for test creation and $4 million for ‘professional development’ activities is even necessary. First, if both universities and community colleges are already doing placement testing, why spend millions to completely reinvent a wheel that already exists?
“More importantly, how will students suffering from reading difficulties ever obtain their diploma if they can’t read the test in the first place?   Basically, the only objective that the governor’s mandatory graduation testing requirements accomplish is punishing students at the back end, after they have already completed 13 years of public education.    If we’re going to spend an additional $19 million in revenue that we already do not have to spend, it would make much greater sense to hire and retain more properly trained reading specialists to begin reading remediation in elementary school where there is a much better chance to make a meaningful difference,” added Rapp.  
After chairing yesterday’s hearing, Rapp returned to the primary topic of her 2008 budget testimony, and more specifically the negative economic and academic impacts that mandatory graduation testing combined with the governor’s extremely flawed $4.8 billion school funding formula will have on the rural school districts she represents.    Particularly, Forest Area School District (FASD)—which a recent federal study identified “as the ONLY school district within the Commonwealth to be considered economically DEPRESSED.”
“The Rendell administration is claiming that Pennsylvania school districts and taxpayers will somehow realize $8 million in savings by implementing mandatory high-stakes testing where one exam determines whether our students graduate or not,” said Rapp. “However, spending $19 million to save potentially only $8 million, can in no way pass the test as fiscally responsible.” 
To further illustrate her positions, Rapp cited some first-hand information that she recently received from Forest Area School District Superintendant Duane A. Vicini
  1. Again, even though the FASD has a market value aid ratio that makes it falsely appear to be one of the wealthiest school districts in Pennsylvania, a recent federal study identified FASD as the only district within the Commonwealth to be considered “economically depressed.” 
  2. As a result, FASD is a “no frills” school district that does not have pools, auditoriums, football fields, tracks, AP classes or a plethora of extracurricular activities for our students.   However, our students meet AYP standards every year and have been identified by Standard & Poor’s as a school district that “Beat the Odds.” 
  3. Over the past decade, FASD has also continually reduced spending by reducing staff whenever possible, contracting tax collection and transportation services, consolidating two campuses into one thereby allowing staff reduction and services to be combined, forming collaboratives with neighboring school districts to provide such services as alternative education, shared co-ops of select sporting programs, switched health care consortiums, limited annual salary increases to approximately 3 percent, etc.   Beginning next year, we will share supervisory services for special education as well. 
  4. Despite the tangible cost savings listed above and many others, FASD faces a $1.2 million deficit and will be forced to cut every support position not required by law and to suspend all extracurricular activities. 
  5. Moreover, the following academic year, the district will become a depressed school district and will be taken over by the state
  6. Lastly, adding insult to injury, the new school funding proposal being put forth by the governor will be an absolutely fatal blow to FASD.  This funding proposal calls for the FASD to receive a total increase of less than $37,000 over the next six years, while most school districts are schedule to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. 
“When compared to the multi-million dollar 22.5 percent, 21.2 percent, and 19.7 percent increases, that the top three funded school districts, which are all conveniently located in the Philadelphia/Lehigh area, are set to receive under the proposed 2008-09 state budget, the miniscule 1.5 percent funding increase for Forest Area School District is without question the wrong message tosend to children living in economically depressed areas,” said Rapp.   “Thanks to the governor’s beyond inequitable educational funding formula, these ridiculously expensive and senseless high school graduation test requirements are definitely one executive branch ‘brain child’ that needs to be permanently left behind.”
Rep. Kathy Rapp
65th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(814) 723-5203
(717) 787-1367
Contact: Ty McCauslin
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 772-9979