This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is running for re-election against challenger Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on Nov. 4.
The Notebook invited both candidates to submit a 1,000-word response answering our six questions about key education issues, with a focus on funding. The Wolf campaign submitted a response. The Corbett campaign declined the invitation to respond, but the Notebook has compiled other published statements from Corbett on these issues.
Responses of candidate Tom Wolf
For the past several years, school districts across Pennsylvania have had to cut programs or raise local taxes in order to balance their budgets. Why has this happened?
Over the past four years, Gov. Corbett’s $1 billion in education cuts have led to increased property taxes, 27,000 educators being laid off, larger class sizes, and the elimination of valuable programs. Meanwhile, Gov. Corbett refuses to implement a reasonable 5 percent severance tax on oil and natural gas extraction that will help fund all of Pennsylvania’s schools.
The devastation inflicted on our education system by Gov. Corbett’s cuts has put our children’s – and our state’s – futures at risk. Pennsylvania should be investing in education and preparing the next generation to join the workforce, but instead our schools are dealing with budget crises that have forced districts to raise property taxes on middle class families. Now, more than ever, Pennsylvania needs new funding and real leadership because Gov. Corbett is simply failing to lead.
As governor, I will restore Gov. Corbett’s $1 billion in cuts. And, with revenue from a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas, I will work to increase the state’s share of funding with the goal of covering 50 percent of the costs. I will also work closely with Democrats and Republicans alike in the General Assembly to enact a sensible, equitable funding formula that includes a nationally competitive base rate, and ties additional funding to district size, poverty levels, local tax efforts, and student makeup.
I will fight every day to build a strong public education system so that we can keep, create, and attract good jobs right here in Pennsylvania.
The state’s share of total education spending is now about 33 percent, one of the lowest proportions in the country compared to the local share. Should Pennsylvania do more to ensure that each district has enough funds to provide a decent education to its students? Would you favor raising or enacting new state taxes to increase the state share?
The current way of funding schools in Pennsylvania shortchanges too many school districts and the students in those communities, and Gov. Corbett’s $1 billion in education cuts have only made the problem worse.
For Pennsylvania to get to a place where every school is doing an exemplary job of educating students, the state needs to increase its share of funding, with the ultimate goal of covering 50 percent of the costs. By increasing funding, we can help alleviate the tax burden on local property owners and ensure that students have access to the tools and resources needed to succeed in school.
But I know we need to ensure that state dollars are distributed in an equitable and transparent manner. As governor, I will enact a fair funding formula that includes a nationally competitive base rate, and ties additional funding to district size, poverty levels, local tax efforts, and student makeup. This will help ensure that every student, regardless of his or her zip code, has access to a high-quality public education.
To properly fund education, I will enact a 5 percent extraction tax, which is projected to generate close to $1 billion by 2015-16. Revenue raised from the tax will be used to reverse Gov. Corbett’s $1 billion in cuts, increase the state’s share of education funding, and provide needed relief to local property taxpayers.
How is the escalating cost of pensions impacting school financing in Pennsylvania, and what do you think should be done about it?
Our current pension situation is the direct result of almost 10 years of leaders in Harrisburg kicking the can down the road and the state paying less than its fair share. What we’re seeing from Gov. Corbett is more political games – he is pushing a plan that creates no immediate savings for taxpayers.
As governor, I will let Act 120 [a 2010 law reducing pension benefits to new employees] work and create innovative solutions that are fiscally responsible and fair and beneficial to taxpayers and future employees.
The Basic Education Funding Commission is working on developing a formula for distributing education aid. What factors do you think should be weighed in constructing a formula?
Because Gov. Corbett threw out our fair funding formula, Pennsylvania is now one of only three states in the entire country that does not use a fair funding formula to distribute state dollars to local school districts. As a result, the state’s current funding system – or lack thereof – creates winners and losers depending on the income levels of individual school districts and the ability of state legislative delegations to bring education funds back to their districts.
As governor, I will work to ensure that every child has the same opportunity to attend a high-quality public school. I will work with leaders in Harrisburg to enact a fair funding formula that distributes state funds in a predictable and transparent manner. I believe that this process must start with a costing-out study to determine the true costs of a high-quality education. In addition to a nationally competitive base rate, the funding formula should tie additional funds to district size, poverty levels, local tax efforts, and student makeup.
Do you think changes are necessary in the way that charters’ funding levels are determined? Would you restore the charter reimbursement line, which helped districts impacted by charter growth, to the state budget?
The state’s charter school sector is one piece of our public education system. It can play an important role in introducing new and innovative teaching practices that can be expanded to local school districts. Unfortunately, Gov. Corbett and others in Harrisburg have prioritized mass expansion and deregulation of this sector over accountability and student outcomes. This is the wrong direction for public education.
I will work to improve the charter school sector by enacting reforms that improve oversight and set high academic standards. As governor, I will convene a commission to develop funding formulas that are fair to school districts, brick-and-mortar charter schools, cyber charter schools, and taxpayers. Currently, charter school funding is based on a school district’s per student costs, which includes funds associated with services not provided by charter schools. The Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office has estimated that accurate brick-and-mortar and cyber charter funding formulas could save taxpayers and local districts as much as $365 million each year.
Do you think state control of Philadelphia schools has been successful? Why or why not? Do you think the District should be returned to local control?
I believe there needs to be local control of school districts. Local communities have a vested interest in ensuring that their education systems are providing high-quality instruction to every child. With control and oversight at the state level, the needs of our youngest residents often get lost as political games and special interests take center stage. As governor, I will support legislation that reinstates local oversight of the School District of Philadelphia.