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Wolf, Wagner make questionable claims about school funding

July 25, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and his opponent in the November election, Republican Scott Wagner, each accuse the other of wanting to cut school funding. Neither candidate has quite been able to prove his point.

A look at Wolf’s comments Tuesday on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh, in which he sought to counter attacks over school funding that Wagner began earlier this month:

WOLF: “My opponent Scott Wagner has been lying about my record on education.”

ANALYSIS: Wagner has claimed — including in a July 12 news conference in Pittsburgh — that Wolf proposed a redistribution of state aid that would result in deep funding cuts to certain school districts.

Wagner is unable to point to an instance in which Wolf said he supported switching the existing scheme of distributing state aid to public schools even if it means cutting aid to certain school districts.

Wagner instead points to a June 29 online report by WHYY-FM in Philadelphia citing Wolf as saying the state needs “a fair funding formula for all dollars going into public education.” The report is headlined, “Gov. Wolf calls for drastic school funding shake-up in surprise announcement,” but goes on to say, “Wolf did not elaborate Friday whether he’d support a sudden shift in how the formula is applied or if he’d prefer a staggered approach.”

Asked about it, Wolf told The Associated Press that he does not support changing the distribution in a way that would cut funding to any school district. Rather, Wolf’s aides say he backs a shift when there’s a big enough increase in state aid to put all school aid through the state’s three-year-old funding formula without cutting aid to any single district.

The funding formula was approved by lawmakers — including Wagner, who was a state senator in 2015 — as a fairer way of distributing state aid for public school instruction and operations. It currently applies to less than 10 percent of that aid, and lawmakers typically must approve any shift in distribution.

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WOLF: “Only one person supported and continues to advocate for cuts to our schools and that’s Scott Wagner.”

ANALYSIS: Wolf’s campaign is unable to point to an instance where Wagner continues to advocate for cutting school funding.

Wolf’s campaign points to two particular statements.

In 2011, before he was in public office, Wagner was asked on a public affairs show whether then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, should go through with a plan to cut education funding. Wagner replied, “Yes, I believe Gov. Corbett needs to stick to his plan.” The Legislature ultimately approved a $1.1 billion budget-balancing cut to public schools and universities, signed by Corbett.

Then in a primary debate four months ago, Wagner answered a question about whether public school funding levels are “fair and adequate,” saying he believes the state spends “enough money” in public schools per student, while stressing the need for frugality, fewer regulations and more accountability.

Wagner has said he can reduce state spending by up to $4 billion, but he hasn’t said where he’d find the savings. In any case, in his July 12 press conference, Wagner said, “I will never propose a plan or sign a budget that cuts funding for education.”

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WOLF: “He also wants to lay off 10 percent of teachers.”

ANALYSIS: The reference comes from a 2015 interview with WHTM-TV in Harrisburg. Wagner is quoted as saying, “We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania. If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”

However, Wolf’s campaign can’t point to where Wagner said he supports laying off 10 percent of teachers as governor, and Wagner’s campaign said he has never proposed it and will not propose it.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.

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