By Jessica BerardinoBy Mike Pintek

PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) — Education spends approximately $750 billion per year across the nation placing it as the second highest level of spending behind health care. America has realized that education is one of the most important programs we need to fund.

The Pa. Department of Education’s Secretary of Education, Ron Tomalis, joined KDKA Radio’s Mike Pintek to talk more about education. The secretary adds at the beginning of the conversation that his children are in public school right now and as a parent he understands how you’re never happy with everything schools are doing.

He begins by answering the urban myth that Gov. Tom Corbett was the one who cut public funding, when really it was Gov. Ed Rendell. Pennsylvania is at a record high in spending on education, topping itself from the previous record set the year before.

A concerned parent phoned in to talk about his school district. His daughter is beginning school and he was informed from the state that he has the ability to move his child in to another district and she would receive a scholarship for transfer. Secretary Tomalis explained that these tax credit programs are to help children who are in lower performing areas, excel and move to a  more challenging environment.

This is the first year for the OSTC program, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, where businesses provide tax credits to non-profit foundations. This allows the lowest 15 percent of students to have an opportunity to change their environment and have a chance to better their education.

“This empowers the parents and child to select the best learning and living environment for them,” said Secretary Tomalis.

Secretary Tomalis explained the four areas that schools can choose from to improve with the funding from the closing of liquor stores. Potentially there is $1 billion to go in to K-12 education, not pensions. The schools can choose from safety improvements, the “ready by grade 3” program, the STEM program incorporating more science, technology, engineering and math in to the classroom or more individualized learning for students.

Pennsylvania’s one of the top states the secretary stated that is known for their teachers. He called Pa. an excess supplier of teachers who end up going out of state for a job. Science courses and special education programs are the areas in need of teachers in our some 500 school districts.

Mike turned the discussion towards charter schools. Some public schools have now established their own charter school for their students to attend. This way they can still receive the money from that student and also keep their student population up.

“We plan on working with charter schools to group many together to make one large community,” said Secretary Tomalis. “If we were able to put all the charter schools together they would make up the second largest community.”

“There’s nothing wrong with competition in education.” said Secretary Tomalis. “It’s wonderful how interactive the parents are being to better their child’s education.”

Mike Pintek is live weekdays noon to 3 p.m. only on NewsRadio 1020 KDKA!