Restored funding fulfills major Wolf promise

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Restored funding fulfills major Wolf promise

Voice: July 2017

Gov. Tom Wolf has delivered on one of his major campaign promises.

By committing to a $100 million increase in basic education funding in the 2017-18 state budget, the governor has nearly reversed the devastating $1 billion cut in public school funding lawmakers approved in 2011.

Legislative leaders were still negotiating a final state budget when this issue of Voice went to press, but the $100 million funding increase for public education seemed secure.

“Gov. Wolf committed himself to public education funding when he campaigned for governor, and he has kept that promise in every state budget since he’s been in office,’’ said PSEA Vice President Dolores McCracken. “There is still plenty of work ahead, but this puts a dark chapter behind us.’’

McCracken noted that Wolf has been adept at playing both offense in standing up for public education and educators, and defense in fending off bad policy proposals.

“Gov. Wolf has fought for good pro-public education policies, and he has stopped legislation that threatened our schools and our Association,’’ McCracken said.

An aggressive offense

In addition to nearly reversing the $1 billion in funding cuts of 2011, Wolf has listened to educators’ laments about testing.

He postponed the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement. And, when the state forwards its plan under the new Every Student Succeeds Act to the federal government this fall, it is expected to propose a greatly reduced reliance on standardized testing, and greater weight on classroom performance and projects in evaluating student achievement.

That plan will include input from many PSEA members and staff invited to participate in the state Education Department’s workshops on ESSA recommendations.

Other initiatives include:

  • Establishing a long-overdue fair funding formula to distribute state funding for public education.
  • Partnering with school nurses to get the lifesaving drug Narcan in Pennsylvania’s high schools in response to the heroin epidemic.

A stout defense

The pension law signed by Wolf last month is the latest example of the governor not backing down from bad policy proposals.

The governor steadfastly refused to buckle against what can only be described as horrendous “pension reform’’ proposals pushed by anti-public employee and anti-union pension forces in the Legislature and their well-heeled supporters.

Wolf worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft a new law that preserves the defined benefit pension system, has no impact on current or retired PSEA members, and protects the solvency of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.

Other key actions:

  • Vetoed a budget that failed to restore school funding cuts.
  • Promised to veto bills that would attack union rights, including proposals to prohibit the direct deduction of union dues.

Tough re-election fight

The gubernatorial election is 16 months away, but the campaign is very much underway.

Wolf is already in the crosshairs of deep-pocketed national interests with anti-union, anti-public school agendas.

An early favorite for the Republican nomination to oppose him, state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, is one of the most strident critics of public schools.

He once rented a helicopter, flew over several school districts, and from his lofty perch pronounced all was well.

“It is not too early for our members to get involved in advocating for Gov. Wolf’s re-election,’’ McCracken said. “The future of public schools and public education jobs is very much on the line.’’