Schwartz wants universal pre-K in Pennsylvania

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz Thursday promised universal pre-kindergarten classes for 4 year-olds in Pennsylvania, saying she also would restore Corbett administration cuts to the state’s share of K-12 education funding.

The candidate, now a U.S. representative from Montgomery County, did not offer a price tag for the pre-K program, but said it would cost about $1 billion to undo the cuts to basic education. “The cuts are so deep it would take my [entire] first term, four years,” Schwartz said.

She has proposed a 5 percent extraction tax on natural gas production that would raise some of the money, though an existing state law would mandate that pension obligations to school employees be paid first. Schwartz said that it would be a matter of “priorities” and cutting wasteful state spending.

Asked to provide examples, Schwartz said, “I’m not going to outline them now.” She suggested that she would look at the money Harrisburg now spends on cyber charter schools for cuts, and vowed to press for the natural gas tax in her first budget.

Mike Barley, Corbett's campaign manager, said the Schwartz plan "recycles the same old tax-and-spend policies of failed administrations." Much of the education money cut was because the 2009 federal stimulus for which Schwartz voted in Congress "irresponsibly backfilled cuts" made by the Rendell administration and allowed it to keep state spending high on other programs, Barley said.

The pre-kindergarten program would be available all over the state but would be “voluntary.” School districts could provide some of the classroom capacity needed, as well as existing Head Start programs and “high quality” private preschool providers.

Meanwhile, the Schwartz campaign said that former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was to be the headliner at private fundraisers Thursday night. One event was scheduled to be at the Montco home of Mark Aronchick, an attorney and major Democratic funder.

He said he was expecting 70 to 80 people at the reception, adding that turnout so early in the cycle reflects enthusiasm for Schwartz. “Democrats are voting with their feet and checkbooks,” Aronchick said.