PITTSBURGH _ He wasn t on stage on Tuesday night, but Gov. Tom Corbett -- and his cuts to public education -- was target No. 1 as this year s crop of Democratic gubernatorial candidates touted their policy prescriptions for Pennsylvania s cash-strapped public schools.
The Republican governor s name was never far from the mouths of candidates Tom Wolf, Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord during a televised, one-hour, education-only forum held on the campus of a magnet school in the city s East Liberty section.
Each of the hopefuls heaped blame at Corbett s feet for a litany of offenses ranging from what they said was his lackluster support for early childhood education programs to the absence of an equitable funding formula for the state s 500 school districts.
Schwartz, a congresswoman from Montgomery County s 13th District, pointed to what she said was Corbett s failed leadership on education.
We cannot grow the state. We cannot grow the economy unless we fund public education, Schwartz said.
All four candidates said they wanted to use a tax on Marcellus shale natural gas drillers to restore money they said was lost when Corbett slashed state support for public education to close a .2 billion deficit in 2011.
The administration has pushed back hard against that narrative, arguing that it has ratcheted up direct taxpayer support for public education.
McCord, the two-term state treasurer, touted his proposed 10 percent severance tax on drillers, calling it the only way to fully fund our schools.
McGinty, a former environmental protection secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, said she d dedicate all the of revenue from any severance levy to the schools. The other candidates want to spend the money on roads and bridges and environmental protection, among other programs.
Facing a question on charter schools, Wolf, a businessman from York County, said he wants to shift funding away from the alternative public schools, arguing they siphon 0 million to 0 million away from public schools.
Schwartz called charters a burden on public schools. If elected, she said she would not allow taxpayer money to go to online-only charter programs and use the 6 million saved from such a move on public education.
All four candidates were skeptical of the reliance on standardized testing, though Schwartz said she would not eliminate the state s new Keystone Exams for high school students because we need to make sure that diploma means something.
McCord took aim at the testing industry, arguing that the state [needs] to involve educational professionals and parents to have reasonable approach instead of march to drummer of testing industry.
All four candidates called for shoring up state support for early childhood education, which experts have pointed to as a key part of future educational success.
Schwartz called for smart investments that included universal pre-kindergarten. Wolf called for bringing sectors of state government together for an early childhood education strategy.
McGinty, who had visited a preschool in suburban Pittsburgh earlier in the day, said the state needed to make sure that parents had access to affordable early childhood programs. McCord also called for sound investments.
All four agreed on the need for safe schools.
In a response to questions about the lack of access to advance placement programs in some districts, McCord said the unequal access to those programs was a core problem, in the state and said he d prioritize money raised by his severance tax for the state s poorest communities first.
Wolf used the question to reiterate his call to move districts away from their reliance on real estate property taxes.
In response to a question about school closings, McGinty stressed the importance of neighborhood schools, which she said are the [places] where working parents drop their kids off and go to work. If not in the neighborhood, have the undwunding of the economics and the end of that family.
All four opposed giving students and their families vouchers so they could attend a private or religious school.
This is a public good and we ought to treat it as that, Wolf said.
McGinty, who was one of 10 children, and attended Catholic school for part of her school career, said her parents never expected the neighbors to pay for that choice
All four candidates called for strong state support for public higher education and for access to an affordable higher education that did not leave students saddled with debt.
Tuesday s debate was carried by the
John L. Micek is the Opinion Editor for PennLive and The Patriot-News. Readers may e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter .
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