Adding her voice to the chorus of Democratic criticism of Gov. Tom Corbett's education policies, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Montgomery County, said that if elected governor, she would sharply boost education funding over the next four years.
Ms. Schwartz outlined some of the main elements of her education plans Thursday, saying that she would reverse what she called a billion-dollar shortfall in state funding, launch a decade-long push to provide universal access to early education for children as young as four years old, and revamp the formula for distributing basic education funds to the state's school districts.
"Gov. Corbett has not only not made education a priority; he's made it a target for cut,'' Ms. Schwartz said during a conference call.
Pledges to increase education funding are a common theme among the Democrats vying to take on the governor next year. Announcing his candidacy the previous day, state Treasurer Rob McCord said that reversing cuts to education funding would be his chief priority. Former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf and former DEP Secretary John Hanger have also vowed to reverse shortfalls in aid to school districts. Other Democrats seeking the nomination next year include Katie McGinty, a former DEP secretary; Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski; Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz; and Max Myers, an evangelical minister.
Gov. Tom Corbett, at a Pittsburgh event, repeated the administration's standard rebuttal to the Democratic criticisms, contending that the shortfalls cited by Democrats stem from the expiration of the federal stimulus program, a funding cut that districts should have anticipated. He said that the total of state dollars in education subsidies was at its highest level ever.
In response to a question during the earlier conference call, Ms. Schwartz maintained that the stimulus was designed to be a short term response to the financial crisis and it was the state's obligation to make up for their loss. Ms. Schwartz said she would create a program dubbed "Keystone Kids,'' that would provide universal access to early education. She said, however, that the program would not be mandatory for districts. The congresswoman, regarded as the early front-runner in the crowded race, said she would also work the Legislature to craft a fairer formula for the distribution of education dollars. Mr. Wolf's web site includes a similar pledge. Ms. Schwartz did not offers details of how she would pay for the expanded education initiatives although in an earlier proposal, she said that she would work to enact a severance tax on natural gas that would provide a significant boost to state revenue.