Under a blazing August sun, Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf practiced the politics of friendly with red-shirted members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers at Solis-Cohen Elementary School.
Union members hoping a Wolf win will translate into more school resources Wednesday posed for pictures and shook hands with the man who current polling says will overtake Gov. Tom Corbett in November.
After giving the York County businessman a warm welcome, Solis-Cohen teachers detailed how recent budget cuts have affected day-to-day operations at the 1,300-student school in Northeast Philadelphia.
Second-grade teacher Marta O’Brien grew emotional talking to Wolf as she explained how the school’s lack of basic resources have traumatized students.
“I don’t think that children should have to be degraded, to come back to a classroom and say, ‘Can I have toilet paper?’ They have to actually say, ‘I’m about to have a bowel movement’ in front of people,” she said choking back tears. “Why is that OK? Why? It’s not OK.
“This is not the way people should live. And why are these children different than 30 minutes away from here? They’re not.”
Wolf pledges to restore overall education funding to pre-recessionary levels by instituting a higher tax on natural gas drilling, accepting the federal Medicaid expansion and raising income taxes.
Talking to the crowd about education funding outside Solis-Cohen’s main entryway, Wolf took on a philosophical tone and used rhetoric that one might think would be more closely allied with Republican ideology.
A “thorough and efficient public education” isn’t something that Pennsylvania’s Constitution calls for “be because we want to be nice people,” he said, “or because we’re trying to be charitable.
“It’s about self-interest. It’s in my self-interest to have a really, really good school system for every child in Pennsylvania,” said Wolf. “If they [get] a good education, the chances are greater that my life is going to be enhanced.”
When asked how he would have differed from Corbett if he’d been in office the past few years, Wolf referenced another cost-saving measure that’s gained traction in other parts of the nation.
“Decriminalizing marijuana, legalizing medical marijuana, those things alone would stop a big chunk of the flow – immediately – of the people into our prisons and reduce the need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on new prisons,” Wolf said.
Most of the changes that Wolf seeks would require the cooperation of the Republican-held, tax-averse state Legislature.
Corbett says that instituting higher levies or taxes would have corrupted Pennsylvania’s economic recovery as it climbed its way out of the recession.
He also insists that classroom funding has been eroded, in part, due to rising pension costs for state employees, namely teachers. Corbett supports a plan to move new hires into a 401(k)-type defined contribution plan.