“It’s not unusual that we’re at a party and Tom will be off in the corner with a dog while everybody else is chatting,” Susan Corbett said of her husband in a 2011 interview with Philadelphia Magazine.
This playful attempt at portraying Corbett as a shy and caring politician does not fool most Pennsylvanians who have suffered because of his elitist agenda against the interests of his constituency. More specifically, Corbett’s cuts to education hit hardest in Philadelphia; including Temple and dozens of public K-12 institutions.
One of the most dominant issues in Pennsylvania politics in recent years has been funding for public education. Corbett, supported by a Republican majority in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate, has made deep cuts to public education since he took office in 2011. Pennsylvania’s education budget supports nearly two million students enrolled in K-12 public schools, a state-funded system of 14 public universities and four state-related universities: Temple, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and Lincoln University.
Corbett planned a visit to Central High School, a school of roughly 2,400 students in the Logan section of Philadelphia, on Jan. 17. His intentions were to congratulate students and teachers for outstanding academic achievement. However, threats of protest by teachers unhappy with his education cuts forced Corbett to cancel the event. Corbett, however, maintains that the cancellation was in order “not to give a number of people a stage for their own purposes to the distraction of the schoolwork of the students in that building that day.”
Although funding to Temple has been cut by 43 percent between 2011 and 2013, the most tragic cuts have been made to K-12 education, particularly in Philadelphia. Corbett’s 2012-13 budget included nearly $900 million in cuts to K-12 education; $400 million of which was cut from Philadelphia, where it is needed most.
Last week in Harrisburg, Corbett announced that Temple’s appropriation for the state’s 2014-15 budget would remain at last year’s level of $139.9 million. Although Corbett plans no decrease in funding from last year’s numbers, he has never offered to increase Temple’s funding during his time in office. While Corbett did pledge roughly $400 million in added funding for public schools on Feb. 4, the pledge comes during a much-maligned reelection campaign, and much of the fuding is set to go towards highly specialized incentives that may not recoup the damages his previous cuts have caused over the last few years.
How can a politician who has assisted in the decline of public education show his face in any public institution that depends on state funds? Central High School was forced to reduce its number of guidance counselors from eight to two, resulting in a two-week waitlist to see a counselor and dozens of letters of recommendation simply unable to be submitted to colleges quickly enough to be considered. Central’s loss of $1.4 million from its budget reduces funding-per-child to $5,177, the lowest in the district.
An open letter to Corbett by Central’s students, likening him to King George III in a format similar to the Declaration of Independence, reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all schools should be funded equally; that all students are endowed with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of a proper education, that to secure these rights, governors are instituted among us, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that whenever any Governor becomes destructive in these ends, it is the right of the voters to vote him out of office.”
Corbett, who received the lowest approval rating among all U.S. governors in a 2013 poll, should not be welcome at any school in Pennsylvania negatively affected by his education cuts. Any appearance is simply a slap in the face to millions of students and thousands of faculty hurt by Corbett’s reign. Corbett is simplifying the situation by treating himself like a CEO and schools as a business.
“I’m asking for 1.6 percent from Penn State’s total budget – any company can find 1.6 percent without increasing prices,” he said during a speech in Altoona, Pa. in 2012.
The issue is that public education is far more complicated than running a business. Education is essential to our economic well-being, and no private school agenda should impede on the millions of lives that benefit from public education.
Temple’s rapid growth, driven by construction projects like Morgan Hall and the Science Education and Research Center, as well as a freshman class that is the largest in Temple’s history, indicates to even the most uninformed observer that state funds are desperately needed at this university. Despite the substantial growth of Temple, Corbett should reconsider any attempt to visit campus or else risk being met by a massive gathering of student and faculty opposition.
Michael Carney can be reached at email@example.com.