TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Jason Gottesman, Director of Communications
DATE: July 25, 2018
RE: Education lies Tom Wolf told…yesterday
When it comes to his own education funding record, Tom Wolf seems to have taken a play out of the George Costanza political playbook.
In Season 6, Episode 16 (entitled “The Beard”) of the show Seinfeld, Mr. Costanza, a well-known fabricator, tells his friend Jerry—who is seeking to beat a lie detector test: “[I]t’s not a lie, if you believe it.”
The same can be said for the Governor’s current view of his own education record, where he seems to have a distorted understanding of his first term in office.
Just yesterday, for instance, in the latest of a line of failed attempts to walk back the fact that he supports an education funding plan that would immediately cut $1.2 billion from hundreds of rural and already-struggling school districts, Tom Wolf continued outright lying about this education record.
LIE #1: “And over the last four years I have restored the full one billion dollars [cut under the Corbett administration]” – KDKA 1020AM interview
FACT: The $1 billion cut came from the loss of short-term federal stimulus money used to fund education. In addition, PennLive called the idea that $1 billion was cut “a long-debunked myth.”
FACT: The Governor is claiming success for something he never did. The Governor only signed one budget (the current year’s) that increased education spending. In fact, the Governor vetoed billions in education funding in his first year while holding out for the largest tax increase in Pennsylvania history.
FACT: The Governor has failed to take steps to ensure that new education money goes directly into the classroom rather than benefit enhancements. Instead the Governor has stood in the way of, even vetoing, reforms that would drastically cut down on current pension obligations. New appropriations in the current year went up by $100 million while pension obligations increased $140 million.
LIE #2: “Since he’s taken office, Governor Wolf has increased the number of children able to attend pre-kindergarten…and increased the number of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten…” – Campaign Website
FACT: Tom Wolf failed to lead and refused to sign three budgets with investments in Kindergarten and Pre-K education programs like Head Start, Pre-K Counts, and the Ready to Learn Block Grant.
LIE #3: “My opponent Scott Wagner has been lying about my record on education.” – KDKA 1020 AM interview
FACT: On June 21, The Philadelphia Tribune reported the Governor’s chief of staff indicated the Governor’s support for House Bill 2501, legislation that would immediately put all basic education dollars through the fair funding formula cutting $1.2 billion from hundreds of rural and already-struggling school districts. This point has never been refuted by the Governor’s office or his campaign.
FACT: On June 29, WHYY reported the Governor doubled-down on these remarks once again indicating his support for immediately cutting $1.2 billion from rural and already-struggling schools.
FACT: Rural schools are terrified of the Governor’s plan. Take the following remarks from rural legislators and school district officials:
Rep. Matthew Dowling, said the proposal will not only hurt local school districts, but the students and community as well.
“While I am in full support of school districts receiving as much state funding as possible, this proposal, if enacted, would drastically cut state funding for our local school districts by up to 50 percent,” Dowling said. “By putting all of the education funding through the Fair Funding Formula, it will only benefit growing school districts and hurt districts that are seeing declines in enrollment.” (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
Rep. Cris Dush
“It could bankrupt some. You may end up finding that school districts like Harmony or others end up having to get absorbed into one or two other school districts. So, around rural Pennsylvania it will have a devastating impact.” (WJAC 6 News at 6:00, 7/19/18)
“Our communities simply do not have the local tax base necessary to make up for such a significant loss of funds, and our students would suffer as a result,” Dush said. “Clearly, the governor is seeking to rob as much as possible from Western Pennsylvania school districts to pay off his top electoral base with nearly $350 million in increased funding earmarked for schools located in greater Philadelphia.” (PA Watchdog, 7/23/18)
“Sadly, this is just another example of how desperately the governor is out of touch with Jefferson County, Indiana County and the rest of rural Pennsylvania. . . . Without question, I will oppose any legislation that is created based on Wolf’s ludicrous education funding formula.” (Press Release, 07/13/18)
Rep. Tina Pickett
Could it be that Gov. Tom Wolf’s visit to the Northern Tier in September of last year has already slipped his mind. Last fall, his office issued a press release, quoting him as saying: “It is important that smaller and rural communities know state government is listening to them and affirming their important role in our Commonwealth.”
It seems he’s quickly forgotten us.
Currently, only new education increases since 2014 are calculated this way – solely because of rural areas like ours. To implement this funding formula using 100 percent of state aid would literally bankrupt most of our rural schools. In fact, 357 of the state’s 500 public school districts would LOSE out on state funding.
That money – which makes up a large chunk of school districts’ budgets – would either have to be made up through local property taxes or schools would have to go without. Neither is a viable option.
Where would that funding be directed instead? Using funds dispersed from the most recent 2018-19 state budget, the increase to the School District of Philadelphia alone would total more than $330 million. Several school districts in growing districts would receive increases sometimes doubling their current appropriation.
. . .
When the Fair Funding Formula was adopted, those of us in rural areas stressed the fact that many of our districts are declining in population and that we have higher than average rates of poverty. We successfully made our point. To push more of the burden on local property taxpayers would cripple our communities, drive more people from our communities and result in subpar education quality. We can’t afford that.
I implore Gov. Wolf to change his mind and to keep the funding formula as it is. He needs to keep his promise to the people of rural Pennsylvania that they matter. Because they do. (Press Release, 7/16/18)
Rep. Jeffrey Pyle
“This is absurd and unacceptable. The governor’s actions will force our school districts to raise property taxes greatly and unexpectedly,” said Pyle. “To come out of nowhere like it did, so close to the school district’s having to file their budgets is grossly irresponsible. I’ll be fighting this cruel malarkey.” (Press Release, 7/11/18)
Rep. Kathy Rapp
House Appropriations Committee data shows that the governor’s plan would significantly slash state education dollars to nearly every school district serving District 65 students.
“Clearly, Pennsylvania’s out-of-touch governor wants to rob as much as possible from rural school districts to pay back his top electoral base with nearly $350 million in increased funding earmarked for schools located in greater Philadelphia,” said Rapp, who also serves as a member of the House Education Committee. “Without question, I will oppose any future legislation that is created based on Wolf’s ludicrous education funding formula proposal.” (Press Release, 7/19/18)
Majority Leader Dave Reed
“I can only imagine that the governor didn’t know how what he was proposing was going to play out in practicality,” said state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana. “If you implement what the governor proposes, you would be immediately closing about half of the school districts in the state.”
“Every state has a baseline, so districts can plan,” Reed and House Republican Caucus spokesman Stephen Miskin said. “We chose 2014 to be the baseline.”
Reed said it would force all Indiana County districts to close, except for Indiana Area. But Indiana “would go from a very affluent school district to a very poor school district,” Reed said.
“The three budgets that increased the most for education the governor refused to sign and they took effect without his signature,” the House majority leader said.
Two months earlier, however, Reed said Wolf rejected the formula devised by that commission to come up with one of his own. Reed said it would have cost area districts anywhere from $45,482 (United) to $158,092 (Indiana Area) in subsidies that would be issued for 2016-17 under a formula the governor rejected on three occasions. (Indiana Gazette, 7/12/18)
Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene/Fayette/Washington said Wolf’s proposal would be “immediately devastating” to school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“Harrisburg should be discussing how to fairly fund our schools so that students in rural, less populated areas can receive the same education as wealthy and urban students,” said Snyder. “No student should have their education and opportunities penalized because of their zip code.”
. . .
Snyder said the conversation in Harrisburg should not be how to split up the money, but how to make more money available to public school districts while eliminating property taxes.
“Our kids deserve a good education just as much as the students in Philadelphia and the suburbs,” she said. “Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of the nation in state school funding, and I won’t support anything that supports cuts in my schools.” (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
Rep. Justin Walsh
“I’m not sure the governor thought this idea through,” said Rep. Justin Walsh, R-Westmoreland, who added if the proposal would be implemented, 357 of the state’s 500 public school districts would see moderate to significant state funding cuts, including most districts in Westmoreland County. “This is not equitable or acceptable.”
. . .
“Interestingly, one of the biggest winners under his proposal is Philadelphia, which would receive a $344 million increase,” Walsh said, adding he’s committed to work against the proposal. “Our teachers already face a difficult job working to support all levels of learning in one classroom. This plan would result in many losing their jobs and larger class sizes for those remaining, thus making their work even more challenging.” (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
“We’d have to close up shop as a school district,” said David McDonald, interim superintendent of the Connellsville Area School District. “It’s our task to provide a world-class education for our kids. Not only could you not do that, but you couldn’t keep the doors open,” McDonald said. (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
McDonald noted that much of the funding under the proposal would be redistributed to urban and suburban school districts, the latter group of which includes many districts that have large, growing tax bases from which to draw revenue, he said. Meanwhile, rural districts like Connellsville that have declining tax bases and high-poverty populations would see funding cuts, he added. “Where is the logic there? Where is there equity in education for our kids?” said McDonald. (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
Denise Sheetz, business manager at the Albert Gallatin Area School District, said her district relies on the state for more than 70 percent of its annual funding. A 30 percent cut in state funding would be “a big hit to us,” she said. (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
For area districts, the fair funding formula “isn’t really fair,” said Albert Gallatin Superintendent Chris Pegg, who described rural districts and districts with declining enrollment as already being underfunded. Enacting Wolf’s proposal would “devastate” those districts, he said. “I don’t know how districts like ours would survive without putting class sizes to 35 and furloughing 40 people,” Pegg said. “Then you’re diminishing the quality of education you’re able to provide, so everything we work to try to do to provide a quality education would be out the window with that proposal.” (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)
Laurel Highlands Superintendent Dr. Jesse Wallace said such a cut would “grossly challenge” his district’s ability to effectively operate.
“I would find it very hard for our district to operate on 24 percent less funding,” said Wallace. He said Laurel Highlands would not be able to provide state-of-the-art programs and employ exceptional faculty needed to prepare students for post-graduation.
Hypothesizing on the effects of large-scale reductions to funding, Wallace said, “We would be put in a position where we would have to cease operation of programs, class sizes would get bigger and the quality of education would diminish because we wouldn’t be able to keep up with 21st century standards.” (Uniontown Herald-Standard, 7/23/18)