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Politics & Government

Election 2014: What To Know About The Debate Over Education Funding

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Gates Foundation via Flickr Creative Commons
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90.5 WESA is exploring several of the key issues being debated as part of the 2014 Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign. Here's some background on the issue of education funding.

Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial challenger Tom Wolf has made it abundantly clear he disapproves of the way Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has handled public education during his tenure in office. Wolf has pledged to fund public schools at rates higher than the current governor has as well as put more of a general emphasis on education if elected.

The money for Wolf’s proposed education expansion would come from a progressive state income tax as well as a severance tax on natural gas removed from shale formations under the commonwealth. The redefined tax brackets would put a higher tax burden on the wealthiest Pennsylvanians while taking pressure off the middle classes — which Wolf defines as households taking in between $70,000 to $90,000 a year. Such a plan might not stand up to the state’s constitution. Wolf says his severance tax could bring in more than $1 billion dollars in revenue.

Corbett, on the other hand, has taken a different stance on education since his gubernatorial victory in 2010. Overall funding for basic education fell during Corbett’s first year in office when $1 billion in federal stimulus money ended in 2011. Corbett increased the amount of state money going into the system but he was not able to cover the full loss as he tried to deal with a $4.2 billion dollar budget deficit. The governor has also pointed out that his Democratic predecessor, Ed Rendell, allocated progressively less money to education each year he was in office.  

However, mounting pressure from constituents and legislatures who were not satisfied with his education budget forced Corbett to increase funding in the latest state budget. But even that has not quieted his critics. Many have argued that the governor favored charter schools over poorer public facilities and has discontinued many grant programs that were designed to help less fortunate schools.

Adding to the debate over education is the recent resignation of one of Corbett’s education aides, Ron Tomalis, amongst speculation that he was doing very little work for substantial pay. It then came out that Corbett never once met with Tomalis during his tenure as an outside consultant. In addition, because of his tenure in state politics, Tomalis received a boost in pension benefits that many commentators believed was a case of Corbett seeking benefits for a personal friend and colleague. Wolf supporting PAC FreshStartPA spoke out against Corbett calling Tomalis a “ghost employee.”