In North Philly, Wolf frames school funding as a statewide issue

Gov. Wolf drops in on a Hunter Elementary School class as part of his “Schools That Teach” tour. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

TEACHER ERIN Furlong has been hoping that someone would hear her pleas for more classroom resources. Well, the second-grade teacher got a personal audience - albeit brief - yesterday with Gov. Wolf.

The governor, who was joined by first lady Frances Wolf, Mayor Nutter and Superintendent William Hite, visited Hunter Elementary as part of his "Schools That Teach" tour to boost his plan for education funding. Wolf's proposal would generate more than a billion dollars by 2017 by imposing a severance tax on natural gas drillers.

"This is not a Philadelphia thing, this is a statewide thing," Wolf said during a roundtable discussion with educators. "We have got to invest in education and we have got to make sure that the burden for investing in education is fair."

In Philadelphia, Wolf's plan would give the school district an additional $159 million, money sorely needed to restore cuts made over the last few years. The district faces an estimated $85 million shortfall for next school year. However, the governor's plan, combined with $105 million in new funds proposed by Mayor Nutter, would enable the district to make new investments.

In addition to more money, Wolf said yesterday he wants to change the way education is funded in Pennsylvania by relieving some of the burden on local municipalities. He said his plan would give the city $538 million in tax relief. He also lauded Nutter, Hite and local educators for doing a great job, despite what he called "too few resources" in many cases.

"The time is now. If we don't act now it's going to be too late," he said. "We can't lose another child."

Hunter, a K-8 school located on North Front Street near York, has 553 students, 12 percent of which are English-language learners and 23 percent of which are special education students. And despite a state-of-the-art library, Hunter - like many district schools - doesn't have a librarian.

Furlong and principal Alberto Rivera said the school also needs more classroom aides and supplies.

"We need to fund education so students can progress and dig themselves out of poverty," Furlong said after the event. "I mean, unfortunately, they're stuck in a hole that they can't get out of.

"Hopefully, with this increased funding we can get some more instructional support so they can be successful."

This was not Wolf's first visit to a Philadelphia public school since his election in November. Last month, he visited Kensington Health Sciences Academy.

Improving education was a key part of the York Democrat's campaign. He has pledged to invest more than $2 billion in education over the next four years, but his plan faces a stiff challenge this year from the Republican-controlled General Assembly.


On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol