Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gubernatorial Candidates on Education

Now that national health care legislation seems to be settled (at least for now), it's time to get to state issues. In looking at candidates for governor from both parties, education seems to be a popular topic. All of their websites have something on education, though the depth of the stance varies. Dan Ororato (D) has the most detailed policy. Joe Hoeffel (D) has a separate issue statement on education; Tom Corbett (R) has a general policy and then more detail in his statement on an educated workforce. Anthony Williams (D), Jack Wagner (D), and Sam Rohrer (R) each include a paragraph on education in very general overall issue or vision statements.

Let's start with those three and then tackle the larger documents. Basically Williams, Wagner, and Rohrer all sort of fit into the "ponies and rainbows" category, with idealistic statements that don't really mean anything or have substantive details or present budgetary figures. Electing these men governor based on their education policies is, as the saying goes, buying a pig in a poke (in contrast to the other three candidates who do spell things out, and thus let the cat out of the bag). Nonetheless, there are points to be found in each.

Here is Williams's statement:

In too many communities, students and families are subjected to subpar schools or curriculum that is outmoded and misaligned with today’s emerging industries. Too often that leaves students unprepared, either for their next academic step or life in the working world. High school dropouts cost us in lost revenues, and the tens of millions spent annually for remedial courses at community colleges chip away at the Commonwealth’s bottom line, too. We can no longer afford year-after-year property tax hikes that funnel dollars into systems that fail to offer data-based returns on our investment. Kids lose and we lose. There can be a better idea.

It’s time to invest in schools that work for our kids, not systems that don’t. Let’s give Pennsylvania families the freedom to choose the best option for their child – be it the neighborhood school at the corner, the charter school across the street, or the private school across town. Make money follow the child, rather than make the child follow the money. We can start today.

The only solution he offers is school choice, and does not go into many details on what legislation he would like to see or what budgetary model he would follow. His vision also pertains solely to K-12 education and not with higher education.

Wagner takes the opposite tack:
ack will enact a HOPE (Helping Our Pupils to Excel) scholarship program. The HOPE scholarship has been successful in 20 other states. Students who graduate from high school with at least a 3.0 grade-point average would have their tuition paid for at a state-owned university – or would be able to use the equivalent amount (roughly $10,000 per year), to attend a private or state-related university, community college, or vocational-technical school within Pennsylvania. Jack has worked to reform the education system in Pennsylvania, from pre-K through college, with his historic audits of PHEAA.

As Governor, Jack will capitalize on those cost savings, and help our students get out of debt. Jack frequently calls attention to the poor rankings of our state in terms of educational debt of our students – we are one of the worst in the country. With the HOPE scholarship, and supporting programs, Pennsylvania will not only be the home to many great colleges in universities, we will provide our students with the opportunity to thrive at those institutions, and contribute to Pennsylvania’s economy for years to come.

Note that his education policy pertains solely to higher education and not K-12. He does have one solid idea, the HOPE scholarship program, though he does not say how much it would cost the state or how he would pay for it.

Sam Rohrer's education statement is one sentence:
We believe that academic excellence thrives when parents have greater choice and control over the educational decisions of their children.

Later he says he wants to stabilize school funding and do away with school property taxes.

The other three candidates have longer statements concerning some aspect of education

Tom Corbett, the leading Republican in the race, has this general statement:
Tom Corbett believes that one of the most important priorities we face is education reform and the quality of education that our children receive in order for them to compete in the global marketplace. He believes that every child in Pennsylvania, regardless of their zip code or economic status should have access to the best education possible. Tom Corbett is a believer in early child hood education and is a supporter of school choice, including: charter schools; private schools; cyber charter schools; Earned Income Tax Credit program and home schooling. He believes that our schools should be staffed by the most effective educator force in the nation and that education funding is met with high standards and accountability in Pennsylvania’s schools.

Like Williams, Corbett focuses on K-12 schools and favors school choice. He also mentions early childhood education and home schooling, but again with no specifics. However, he has a longer statement on developing a world class workforce, concerning career and technical training and higher education. The primary focus of this statement is job training and community college education, though there is a little discussion of higher education. Corbett does not advocate many new programs not does he provide many budgetary specifics. Verbs such as "will direct," "committed to the support of," "will redirect fund," and so on imply the use of the bully pulpit more than the creation of agencies or the spending of money. A few things that particularly struck me are his mention of returning veterans, his note that we are a net exporter of teachers, training more teachers than we have jobs for, though I see this as a positive rather than a negative, and his note that many college graduates leave the state not because jobs are lacking but because they don't think the commonwealth has the lifestyle amenities they want. Other states (North Carolina is mentioned) recruit graduates with appealing pr campaigns. Corbett thinks we need to use social media and other networking to let new graduates know what is available here. One thing I found promising is his statement that we need to make sure people can study subjects that interest them and get a broad enough education that they can find work they enjoy rather than preparing them solely for one job that might be in momentary demand.

Joe Hoeffel has a specific issues page on education. It focuses primarily on K-12 education. It does include support for pre-K and early childhood education, with statistics to back up their positive results. Another point is identifying at risk students and providing them with the support they need to graduate. Hoeffel wants to improve standards and accountability and is in favor of well-designed standardized tests. "Funding the formula" is another item mentioned. Hoeffel favors shifting more of the cost of education from local property taxes to the state and will cover the cost of that with a graduated income tax where wealthier residents pay more that lower-income residents. He also mentions the importance of school board training and of defined benefit teachers' pensions.

Onorato gets the prize for the most specific education policies, with separate multi-page pdf plans for Pre-K - 12 education and for higher education, complete with estimated spending goals (but not necessarily a discussion of where the money will come from). In Pre-K - 12 (8 pages) he shares his view of the importance of early childhood education, shifting the burden from local property taxes, providing educational opportunities that are personally interesting to students as well as occupationally opportunistic, a balanced view of school choice with a side note on charter school reform, and cost savings suggestions such as shared services and aggregating school employee health insurance. He also mentions the importance of good school administrators and throws in kudos to school nurses and libraries. I was also pleased to see a note on the importance of parent involvement, something I view as essential to good education. His higher education plan (11 pages) involves serious money. I counted promises to set aside a total of at least $65 million for various projects, such as a pool to provide matching fund for federal grants, and an equivalent amount ($25 million) as a pool for matching funds for industry-sponsored research. Like Corbett he says quite a bit about community colleges and job training, and promises to have community college or equivalent programs available within an hour's drive of as many Pennsylvanians as possible. He also wants to make filling out the federal financial aid forms easier by allowing people to option of linking the forms to their tax returns so relevant data will automatically transfer from one form to the other. Another idea is setting up a community college coordinating board so spending on things like copiers and library subscriptions can be aggregated.

Candidates who do not provide specifics on their education policy are asking voters to take them on faith. Candidates who do provide specifics are setting up expectations that, if elected, they may not be able to meet, but at least you have some sense of what their intentions are and have a way of holding them accountable to their promises. When specifics are given it is interesting to see what each man (and they are all men, no women candidates for governor) thinks is worth including. It gives an idea of their priorities and mindset, though both are likely to change.

Interested voters should examine the candidate's statements, where they exist, in full, to make an informed decision.

No comments: