Does Tom Corbett actually care about Philly schools?

    National Governors AssociationÕs Economic, Development and Commerce Committee Chairman Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania listens to discussions about state and federal tax reform, during the committeeÕs meeting at the NGA 2013 Winter Meeting in Washington on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    National Governors AssociationÕs Economic, Development and Commerce Committee Chairman Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania listens to discussions about state and federal tax reform, during the committeeÕs meeting at the NGA 2013 Winter Meeting in Washington on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    So what does Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett get out of helping solve a school funding crisis in Philadelphia, where Democrats rule and Corbett voters are about as common as a cheesesteak with melted swiss on it?

    I can’t rule out the simple answer that it’s his job and he actually cares.

    But politics always figures in the actions of any governor, and it was fascinating to see Corbett, as he scrambled to deal with a heavy load of his own priorities in the last two weeks – transportation, liquor privatization and pension reform – spend significant staff and personal time wrestling with the Philly schools crisis.

    Corbett faces re-election next year and Jon Delano, a Pittsburgh political analyst, told me that Philadelphia schools aren’t remotely on the mind of anybody outside the Philadelphia area.

    “Here, I don’t remember seeing a story, a headline, anything about the Philadelphia schools crisis,” Delano said.

    So what’s the political advantage for Corbett of weighing in here? I think it’s about the potential impact of headlines two months from now, especially on suburban voters.

    Corbett has taken some lumps around the state for allegedly under-funding public schools, and if Philadelphia’ suffers a meltdown in the fall, it will be noted that the governor appoints three of the five members of the board that runs Philly schools.

    While the marginal performance of the Philadelphia school system may not hurt or help Corbett, a catastrophe on his watch would matter.

    And there’s the suburbs. Corbett isn’t going to get a lot of votes in Philadelphia, but he desperately needs to be competitive in the suburban counties, which are part of the Philly media market.

    It was interesting that Corbett gave an exclusive interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer last night, pitching the school funding plan as one that could net the school district as much as $274 million towards it’s $304 million shortfall.

    As this analysis by our Holly Otterbein and Dale Mezzacappa of the Public School Notebook notes, most of the funding in the solution comes from Philadelphia taxpayers and school employees. But if moderate suburban voters get a perception that Corbett stepped in with a schools rescue plan for the city, it could help him.

    And as John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News noted last week on WHYY’s Radio Times, Philadelphia voters tend not to turn out big in gubernatorial elections, and a schools meltdown might give more of them a reason to get to the polls.

     

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.