IUPolitique: Gov. candidates tout education plans to combat Corbett’s record

Incumbent Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett hit the airwaves earlier this week with an advertisement focusing on his education agenda if elected to another term in Harrisburg.

The ad begins with Corbett’s wife, Susan, saying that she and the governor are grandparents now.

“I think what Tom worries about the most is what do we have to do to make Pennsylvania a better place for our children, for our grandchildren,” Susan Corbett said.

Both Corbetts were teachers before their foray into the political sphere. Susan Corbett goes on to charge in the ad that Gov. Corbett has increased spending in the Commonwealth’s education department $1.5 billion more than it was when he took office and that Pennsylvania’s education spending is at its highest it has ever been.

According to Susan Corbett, the Commonwealth is among the top states in the nation for spending per pupil. In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pennsylvania ranked as the 11th-highest state in the most spending per pupil with $13,467 spent annually per pupil.

“Tom wants to see results, and those results are kids that are graduating. They’re ready for a career; they’re ready for college,” Susan Corbett said in the ad.

Pennsylvania trails its neighbor to the north, New York, which spends $19,076 annually per pupil, almost 42 percent more than Pennsylvania.

Despite Gov. Corbett’s increased spending in education, he proposed reducing state funding for state-owned and -related universities by 50 percent in his 2011-12 budget. The budget he signed into law from the legislature ended up cutting funds 18 percent.

In the 2012-13 budget, the governor proposed another 20 to 30 percent cut for education and proposed flat-funding higher education for 2013-14. In February, Corbett proposed flat-funding higher education again for 2014-15.

When President Obama visited Scranton in August, he took a jab at the governor for his education cuts.

“Here in Pennsylvania, there have been brutal cuts to not just higher education, but to education in general,” Obama said. “That means that state legislatures cannot just keep cutting support for public colleges and universities.”

Obama is not the only Democrat to attack the incumbent governor over his education policy: Each of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have attacked Corbett for his stance on education and have proposed reforms that would reverse Corbett’s cuts.

In September, then-frontrunner candidate Rep. Allyson Schwartz took aim at Corbett as she laid out her education platform in a conference call to reporters.

“Governor Corbett has turned his back on Pennsylvania’s public schools,” she said. “Pennsylvania needs a new governor who understands that strong schools are the foundation for building a better future for our children and a stronger economy.”

Schwartz supports a voluntary universal pre-K for four-year-olds, a reversal in Corbett’s education cuts over the four years of her first term and a “fair funding formula” to allow a transparent, efficient allocation of monies across the Commonwealth.

In early February, frontrunner candidate Tom Wolf released a four-minute video about his education stance. Wolf supports a 5 percent tax on oil and gas companies, including natural gas extractors, which would go directly to education funding. Like Schwartz, Wolf also supports universal pre-K and a fair-funding formula.

State Treasurer Rob McCord proposed a 10 percent tax on natural gas extraction, which would funnel more than $1 billion into education.

McCord was also endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Educators Association.

Candidate Katie McGinty also supports using a natural gas extraction tax to fund education; McGinty was the first candidate to fully support using 100 percent of the revenue from the tax to fund education.

An early-April Franklin & Marshall poll of Pennsylvania Democrats said 32 percent of Pennsylvanians identify education as the issue most important to them. Trailing education as the most important issue was unemployment and personal finances at 23 percent.

Sixty-six percent of Democrats polled said that the Commonwealth was moving in the wrong direction, while 22 percent said it was moving in the right direction.