State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

In governor's race, attack ad keeps focus on schools funding

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 28, 2014 5:38 PM
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Education funding cuts are front and center once again in a tiff between Pennsylvania’s candidates for governor.

A television attack ad reported on last week highlights the issue, which has dogged Republican incumbent Governor Tom Corbett in the polls for years.

In the spot, a narrator says Corbett “cut nearly a billion dollars from education, forcing schools districts to fire 20,000 teachers and staff.”

On Monday, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley denounced a television attack ad and the administration’s opponents.

“For three and a half years they have lied through their teeth,” Cawley said. “And shame on us for not being louder and calling it exactly what it is: a damn lie.”

The Corbett administration maintains that the money cut from education in 2011 was simply federal stimulus dollars that weren’t replaced because the governor was sticking to a no-tax promise.

But about a third of the money cut was state funding, as The Morning Call has reported.

The roughly $355 million cut in years prior, had gone toward grants for early education and police officers, as well as reimbursements to school districts losing students to charter schools.

Cawley called for Democratic gubernatorial challenger Tom Wolf to get the ad removed. But spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the Wolf campaign can’t coordinate with the ad’s funder, an independent PAC called PA Families First. Moreover, said Sheridan, the campaign doesn’t dispute the ad’s claim.

Education advocates say the effect of recent annual state budgets is plain to see. Federal data shows that more than 23,000 school employees lost jobs in 2011 and 2012 in Pennsylvania. In a 2014 survey, nearly 42 percent of responding school districts planned to furlough teachers. The same report shows academic offerings are being scaled back as class sizes are increasing.

The Corbett administration has argued that these pressures are in large part due to rising pension contributions. A state law that went into effect in 2011 increased what schools have to pay toward their employees’ pension fund. Advocates say state aid that goes toward pension payments shouldn’t count as education funding. Cawley dismissed that argument.

“When you run an enterprise... at least, everywhere else certainly in the private sector, everywhere else that I’m aware of, part of the expense of running that enterprise is salary and benefits for your employees,” Cawley said.

When asked about layoffs, he said the Corbett administration cannot answer for decisions made by individual school districts.

“We rely a great deal on local leadership of the 500 school districts to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people within their communities,” Cawley said. “So as far as any specific, regarding any specific school district, I think the question would be best left to them to answer.”

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Comments: 2

  • Petie InPenna img 2014-07-29 11:09

    Mary, rather than rely on and promulgate another journalist's claims, why don't you exercise your own oath to truth and integrity and simply do the investigating and reporting yourself? Don't you owe that to the people?

  • Petie InPenna img 2014-07-29 11:17

    Here's the quote you reference:

    "Voters give Corbett bad marks for his education-funding record, blaming him for the loss of $655 million in federal stimulus money and $355 million in state funds that were cut from his 2011-12 budget."

    Those are facts. That's he said she said. Shame on the media for their failure to be the source of truth and accuracy on which the people depend--and shame on the many who exploit that dependency.

    If you would take the time to look at the budget, you would see that in 2010-2011 we lost more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money--not $655 million perceived by the voters, as reported by the Morning Call and as rebroadcast by yourself. How about if you do the right thing? Vet the facts.

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