By AMY FETHEROLF
If there were a contest to come up with the most out-of-touch way to assess Pennsylvania’s education crisis, Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner’s renting a helicopter and doing a flyover of some hand-selected central Pennsylvania schools, declaring that Pennsylvania schools aren’t underfunded, would be the winner.
You couldn’t even make this stuff up if you tried.
Wagner took the media up in a helicopter and told them that because the schools down below had tennis courts, that means Pennsylvania schools are doing just fine. Never mind that the schools Wagner chose to fly over are some of the most well-funded schools, while so many others would present an entirely different picture.
Could he miss the point any more if he tried?
This isn’t a debate about athletic facilities you can see from a helicopter. This is a debate about making sure that every child in Pennsylvania gets a good education, even if they don’t live in a wealthy district.
This publicity stunt from Wagner is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s clueless 2005 blunder flying over Hurricane Katrina. It doesn’t take a genius to know that you can’t visit a few wealthy schools (by helicopter, no less) and declare “mission accomplished” for Pennsylvania schools.
From that helicopter, Wagner can’t see into the Pennsylvania classrooms where class sizes are too large and teachers are forced to buy their own supplies out of their pocket. From 1,600 feet up, Wagner can’t see the massive layoffs in poorer school districts, which means that some schools have had to combine multiple grades into one class.
Wagner should try visiting a community that’s seen schools close because former Gov. Tom Corbett’s draconian education cuts left them unable to operate. According to an AP report, the disparity between what wealthy districts and poor districts spend to educate Pennsylvania children more than doubled under Corbett.
If Wagner thinks this is a debate about tennis courts, then he needs a reality check. Instead of wasting time with this helicopter stunt, Wagner should go visit Pennsylvania’s underfunded public schools and tell the kids who sit in overcrowded classrooms with no supplies that Pennsylvania schools are doing just fine.
If Wagner thinks the schools he’s flying over are representative of the whole picture for Pennsylvania, then he is completely out of touch with reality, and we should consider whether someone so willfully ignorant should have a seat in the state Senate.
Pennsylvania legislators should be working with Gov. Tom Wolf in the coming weeks to pass a budget that isn’t based on this type of flawed logic. Pennsylvanians deserve a budget that doesn’t ignore the realities of the education funding mess that Corbett left behind.
— Amy Fetherolf is the communications director for Pennsylvania Working Families.