Monday, January 18, 2010

Candidates Discuss Education Funding, Pensions

Six of the seven men trying to become Pennsylvania's next governor laid out their education policies this weekend at a forum sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Educators Association in Harrisburg.
Republican Tom Corbett joined all five Democratic candidates at the event, where each gubernatorial hopeful promised to make education spending a top priority.
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel says he'd increase the state's contribution to school district's budgets.

"We have been down at 37 percent as a state contribution to public education. That is too low. The national average for states is 47 percent. We need to get there. We need to move off of the local property tax."

Hoeffel says he'd do that by implementing a graduated income tax, instead of the current flat rate.
Dan Onorato, Tom Knox, Chris Doherty and Hoeffel all promised to follow Governor Rendell's lead by substantially increasing state education spending each year.
Knox praised Governor Rendell's education policies.

"We need early learning programs. For every dollar you spend in pre-kindergarten you get 13 dollars on the other end. We need to keep that up. He initiated tutoring assistance, science and math programs where important classroom technology was implemented to an unprecedented degree."

Onorato says he'd follow funding guidelines set by the legislature's "costing out" study.

"I'm a big supporter of continuing the funding formula. We have to make sure, or put money in place. The results have shown it. It works. So let's not go backwards. Let's go forward."

The candidates also addressed Pennsylvania's looming spike in pension costs.
Corbett said the state needs to make the payments it promised to school employees, but called the current setup "unsustainable"and said investments won't be able to help the state meet a looming multi-billion dollar payment obligation.

"And I don't think you're going to see Wall Street coming back to make up that difference, especially between now and 2012, 2013, and I think everyone here would agree. We're going to have to find other sources of income."

Corbett and the five Democrats agreed the state needs to make its payments, but the candidates differed on whether pensions should stay as defined benefit plans, or be shifted to another system.
All the Democrats but Auditor General Jack Wagner said they'd keep the current setup.
Wagner said he'd guarantee that plan for current school employees, but would appoint a commission to create a different formula for future employees.

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