Education tops the list of concerns for Pennsylvania voters in today’s gubernatorial election — as well as the platforms for Pennsylvania’s two gubernatorial candidates.
Funding for education in Pennsylvania is an issue both Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf took on in their campaigns. Voters considered it the top issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, according to an October Franklin and Marshall poll, as opposed to the economy, which was the main issue in 2006 and 2010 .
Corbett advocates for more efficient education spending, while Wolf favors increasing the state’s education budget.
Both candidates dispute whether Corbett has helped Pennsylvania education while in office. Wolf campaigned on the claim that Corbett cut education funding by $1 billion, but Corbett’s ads say he increased funds for education by $1.5 billion.
Wolf’s $1 billion-cut claim refers to the $860 million less that school districts received in the 2011-2012 school year compared to the previous year, which was due in part to the end of federal stimulus grants for schools that year. Corbett’s $1.5 billion-increase claim refers to the additional funds allocated to school employee pensions during his term in office, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org.
Corbett argued in the last gubernatorial debate that the budget for education is currently above $10 billion and that “we have put more money into education than any time in the history of education in Pennsylvania.”
At the start of his term, Corbett repealed former Governor Ed Rendell’s existing formula for funding Pennsylvania schools. Without a funding formula, the School District of Philadelphia has been pressed each year to find enough funds to open schools on time — a prospect which has been doubtful at the beginning of recent school years.
“We are not spending what we did spend before on education in the classroom and that can be seen by everybody. We need to invest in education,” Wolf said in the last debate before the election.
Corbett argued that he was left to deal with the holes in the budget from Rendell’s administration when the one-time stimulus money for schools ran out. In June, Corbett signed a bill to start a commission to look into a funding formula for schools.
Lead organizer of Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools and former public school teacher Ron Whitehorne says that the commission was purely a political move for Corbett in response to backlash against some of his actions. “If he was really for a fair funding formula, he would have continued with the one that was in place when he came into office,” he said.
PCAPS took to the streets with a door knocking campaign.
Back in July, PCAPS asked residents in mainly West, Southwest and North Philadelphia to fill out postcards pledging they would vote for a candidate who supported a fair funding formula, revenue increases for schools , more charter school accountability, an end to the school to prison pipeline and the abolishment of the School Reform Commission. PCAPS recently mailed the pledges back to the people as a reminder before election day.
Wolf’s solution to the education funding problem is to implement a five percent severance tax on gas-drilling companies that would pay some money back to the areas where the drilling happens and the rest toward education funding. Wolf also supports an education funding formula, which co-founder of Parents United for Public Education Helen Gym said is important to consider.
“For an incumbent, you should be dealing with their record and not their promises,” Gym said. “If Tom Corbett were to leave office, it will be because education voters voted him out.”
But that doesn’t mean that electing Wolf will solve edu cation funding problems.
“It’s not like we elect Wolf and then everything is hunky-dory. He’s going to have conflicting pressures on him and he’s going to face a hostile legislature,” Whitehorne said.
“Regardless of who sits in the governor’s chair, the realization for all of us needs to be that one individual cannot fix this situation,” Gym said, “and it’s not going to be fixed just by switching parties or individuals.”