Wolf Touts Education Record At W-B Rally
WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf touted his record of increasing education funding while balancing the state budget and spoke in support of teachers unions at a rally Saturday on Public Square.
“One of the reasons I ran was because the folks in Harrisburg … didn’t think education was as important as it really is, so they stripped education funding. They had laid off … 20,000 educators in the four years before I got to Harrisburg. Since I’ve been there, we have put a historic amount of money into education, giving teachers the resources they need to teach,” Wolf told the crowd of well over 100.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association hosted the rally to support Wolf in his re-election campaign. The governor faces a challenge from Republican businessman Scott Wagner in the Nov. 6 election.
When Tom Corbett became governor in 2011, $1.1 billion in federal recovery act money his predecessor put in the previous state budget was no longer available, and Corbett chose not to replace it with other revenue, refusing to support a tax on the extraction of Marcellus Shale natural gas, fearing it would drive drillers from the state.
Wolf said his restoration of that $1 billion to the state education budget has led to “huge” increases in the number of children benefitting from pre-kindergarten education and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, with a graduation rate approaching 90 percent — well-above the national average.
“I have done things to help make sure that teachers’ lives are better, that teachers have the resources we need them to have to teach the kids the things we need them to teach. We need to have these kids learn. But here’s the deal: I also balanced the budget,” he said to applause, adding that he’s put Pennsylvania on “sound financial footing.”
Wolf said opponents want to institute policies that would reverse financial progress and are intent on “trashing unions.” He criticized a June 27 Supreme Court ruling in which justices decided 5-4 that government workers who choose not to join unions may not be required to help pay for collective bargaining. He vowed to veto state legislation that would infringe on workers’ collective bargaining rights.
Wagner has said education is his top priority and that he would prioritize educational reforms if elected.
State representatives Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-114, Taylor; Mike Carroll, D-118, Avoca; and Eddie Day Pashinski, D-121, Wilkes-Barre; U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-17, Moosic; and Kyle Mullen, a state representative candidate in the 112th District spoke in support of Wolf, public education and unions. Some spoke against school vouchers.
Answering questions after the rally, Wolf said he doesn’t know why anyone would blame unions for rising school property taxes. “What unions are trying to do is create opportunities for teachers to get a living wage and have benefits and working conditions that (will) attract good people into that profession. … That’s not something that has anything to do with property taxes,” he said.
The House approved Wolf’s property tax reform proposal in 2015, but it stalled in the Senate. “I have not been able to do that yet, but I’m hoping in the second term, maybe I can. I recognize the need for real property tax reform,” he said.
PSEA President Dolores McCracken said it was important to hear from pro-public education legislators and candidates, and “we look forward to working with a legislature and public officials who put public education first and foremost.
Students and teachers from Meyers High School manned booths on Public Square, providing free snow cones, popcorn, face painting and games for children at the rally. Magician Pat Ward strolled the grounds producing animal balloons and magic tricks. Rock the County, a grass-roots “get out the vote” group provided costumes and free photos in a photo booth.
Two of the five students interviewed said they don’t care who wins the election and volunteered just for extra credit or to get in some community service hours; the others said they supported Wolf and would vote for him if they could. They were all 14 or 15 years old.
Contact the writer: