Corbett singled out his proposed Passport for Learning initiative as he lobbied for his $28.4 billion state budget plan at a Capitol news conference and a separate economic summit sponsored by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Bankers Association.
"This will lead to better and safer schools without raising taxes," Corbett said at the news conference, where he was flanked by about 50 legislators, local school officials and business lobbyists.
The program hinges on the fate of Corbett's ambitious plan to end the state monopoly on the sale of liquor and wine by replacing the 600 state stores with twice as many private outlets and allowing beer and wine to be sold at a wide range of stores.
While Corbett's proposal would not raise taxes, he said he expects the sale of licenses to sell alcoholic beverages to generate $1 billion to finance the school program.
"There's no grant (program) if it doesn't pass," the governor said.
Corbett pointed out that his state budget plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 calls for a $90 million increase—less than 2 percent—for public schools' instruction and operations, not including money for transportation, special education or employee retirement plans.
The Republican governor also had no ready answer when asked where he would cut spending if lawmakers reject his strategy for overhauling the state pension plans covering more than 800,000 active and retired state workers and school employees.
"I'm not going to go into that right now," he said.
The pension changes would reduce future benefits for current employees—drawing vows of union lawsuits—while requiring new hires to join a less expensive defined-contribution plan and temporarily limiting annual increases in the taxpayers' share of pension costs. Savings for next year alone are projected to be at least $175 million.
Meanwhile Tuesday, a conservative think tank released a poll reaffirming the findings of at least four surveys since December 2010 that show at least 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters strongly support ending the state monopoly on the sale of liquor and wine. The latest poll, by the Commonwealth Foundation, put the figure at 60 percent.
"Selling liquor is not a core function of government," Corbett said. "Education is."
Despite the unflagging public support for getting the state out of the liquor and wine business, legislative efforts to do so have failed for decades.
Under the block grant proposal, the state's 500 school districts could use their annual shares of the block grant money for school safety, enhanced learning programs in grades K-3, customized learning plans for students and enhancement of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives in grades 6-12.
The poorest districts would receive proportionately more grant money than wealthy districts, based on the state aid ratio, Department of Education officials said.
"This is an enrichment program" that would accelerate or expand programs already in place, said Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, who attended the news conference.