Note to Philadelphia students, teachers, and parents: Gov. Wolf sees you.
Five months into his term as Pennsylvania’s chief executive, he has already spent more time in Philadelphia School District buildings than his predecessor, who never visited one.
Wolf said he has seen and heard and read things that worry him. Take the plight of Lingelbach, the Germantown elementary school that ran an operating budget of $160 for the entire year, brought to light in an Inquirer article and flagged by the governor as a problem he needed to address.
“We have schools that have been starved of the resources they need to operate,” Wolf said Friday in his Philadelphia office. “What I saw was great promise. . . . I also saw a lot of problems caused by simple underfunding.”
Wolf, a Democrat, has spent much of the early days of his administration stumping for education funding, crisscrossing the state to make a case for a budget that would pump nearly $1 billion more into public schools – including at least $159 million in new money for Philadelphia.
It’s proving to be a tough sell, to say the least, in the Republican-led legislature.
But Wolf is firm: Philadelphia schools matter, even to people in his home territory of York County and other parts of the state more accustomed to considering the state’s largest district unworthy of investment.
Fixing the district is a moral imperative, he said, but it’s more than that.
“This is an investment that actually pays a return, pays a dividend,” said Wolf, who keeps an apartment in Philadelphia and said he planned to spend the weekend in the city. “We have got to get this right, or we pay a price down the road – we have a weaker economy, a weaker democracy, we have overcrowding in prisons.”
Wolf wants to impose a 5 percent tax on extracted natural gas to raise the cash for schools. Pennsylvania is the only natural-gas producing state in the country that lacks such a tax, he said.
“We need to stop being toyed with,” Wolf said. “We need to recognize that if we did have one, like all the other states, we could have money that we could invest in our education system.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Wolf also addressed the future of the School Reform Commission.
His preferred form of governance for the district?
“Local control,” Wolf said.