In the wake of an election that resulted in the flipping of a number of key political positions, many Americans are wondering what’s in store for the nation. This question is particularly relevant for Pennsylvanians, who recently elected Tom Wolf as governor, ending the four-year reign of incumbent Tom Corbett.
This also hopefully means an end to Corbett’s frankly abysmal public education policies. One of the greatest criticisms levied at his administration was his tendency to cut funding for both K-12 institutions and higher education programs, including a 50 percent cut to four of the most prominent universities in the state: Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Lincoln University and Temple. Most citizens are hoping that Wolf is going to help write a new chapter for education in Pennsylvania.
If Wolf sticks to his words, then that might very well be the case. Large parts of his campaigning relied on reversing the policies that hurt education all over the state, and he has published plans for what changes he will be making.
In live remarks after his victory, Wolf stated, “We need to make sure education is at the top of the list and not the bottom.”
That is something Pennsylvanians very clearly need. In the past few years, students have seen shuttered schools, less and less funding, and increasingly crowded classrooms. In opinion polls taken shortly before the election, Pennsylvanians made education the No. 1 issue.
Wolf’s plan is mostly just to increase funding. The goal is to fund not only the buildings themselves, but the educators as well. Wolf plans to restore the $1 billion that was cut out of the budgets of schools. The end goal is for the state to cover at least half of the total costs to public education.
This doesn’t just include K-12, though. The new governor also wants to increase access to higher education by making state aid easier to get, and by making state scholarships more widely available. Wolf has planned out a new “Deserving Scholar Program,” which would benefit students who are in the top 20 percent of SAT test-takers with at least a 3.75 GPA in high school, but are also in the bottom quartile of income distribution.
Of course, talk doesn’t amount for much in the world of politics. Fortunately, it seems that Wolf actually has a plan to back up these increases in funding, which are largely based on tax increases for companies that are taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s lucrative drilling industry. Rather than placing the burden of paying for education on citizens, Wolf’s placing it on the corporations that are making billions of dollars in the state. Other components of funding will come from changes to the formula for charter schools.
So what does all of this mean for Temple students? Ideally, the recent increases in costs for higher education will stop. Wolf’s plan means increased funding for any institution that receives state funding, including Temple. It hopefully will mean lower tuition, lower fees and more scholarships. It will also mean better rates on state loans.
If his plan works, the benefits would be countless. Pennsylvania schools have been suffering under strict budgets for too long, and the importance of funding can’t be understated. Public Philadelphia schools, which have been closing left and right, could potentially have the funding for adequate facilities and teachers. It could mean an end to students needing to commute for miles just to reach a school that has good programs. It might mean an end to the cutting of art and music programs in elementary schools.
Most importantly, it could mean that education would be available regardless of area. The schools most affected by the budget cuts of recent years were the same schools least equipped to deal with them: poor rural or urban schools. Affluent suburbs and wealthier areas of the state could continue even with less funding since they received so much in the first place. With Wolf’s plan, there looks to be a better distribution of a larger amount of funds, which will hopefully make education better across the state.
For now, any implications of Wolf’s policy are just speculation. He doesn’t take office until January, but he looks like he’s making an attempt to listen to the electorate that enabled him to take office. It’s too early to tell, but it looks like anyone hoping for a stronger education system should be cautiously optimistic about the governor-elect.
Jason Pepper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @pepperjasona