TOM WOLF'S official victory party took place in central Pennsylvania, but thousands of teachers and education advocates in Philadelphia also celebrated, hoping the change in power will signal a win for the city's ailing public schools.
Education was the top issue during the governor's race and Wolf pledged to increase the state's investment in public schools, while hammering Republican Gov. Corbett for cutting $1 billion.
While Wolf - something of a political novice - must deal with a Republican-controlled Legislature, some expect city schools to benefit from increased funding, though it is too early to say how much.
"It doesn't all of a sudden free money up for Philadelphia schools and the calvary has arrived," said Larry Ceisler, a local political consultant and principal of Ceisler Media. "I think that you still have to deal with a General Assembly which probably moved a few notches to the right [Tuesday] and also is probably less Philadelphia-friendly than what we have now. But can Wolf get the Philadelphia schools more money? I would think so, but it's all going to have to be part of negotiations and deal-making."
Ceisler noted that Republicans want privatization of the state Liquor Control Board and pension reform, two items which could become part of a potential deal for a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drillers. A portion of the tax would likely go toward education.
A statewide commission is expected to issue a report soon on a fair-funding formula for the state's public schools. Wolf could use that report to work more money into his first budget proposal.
School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green said yesterday the district would welcome additional revenue, but expressed some doubt given the political landscape.
"The problem is Harrisburg has its own financial trouble," he said. "And I think given the makeup of the General Assembly, there's no way we're going to see a progressive income tax, which [Wolf] campaigned on."
Green said he thinks the severance tax could get through, but the question, he said, is how much money would go to education. "That's where the rubber will meet the road in the spring budget season," he said.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten were both with Wolf on Tuesday. The unions strongly supported the millionaire businessman and lauded him as someone who views educators "not as an obstacle, but as a partner in improving education for our children."
The PFT is challenging the SRC's decision to unilaterally cancel its contract and impose new health care benefits.
Green said he did not know if Wolf would get involved in the PFT contract talks. If the district loses its case on the benefits changes, more than $50 million in projected savings would be eliminated, he noted.
Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth and former policy director for Gov. Ed Rendell, said she believes that Wolf will be a dramatic improvement for Philly schools. She expects Wolf to examine several issues, including the state's direct payments to charter schools that exceed agreed-to enrollment limits, appointees to the state Charter Appeals Board, and reinstituting charter reimbursement.
Cooper said she also believes that Wolf will level the playing field in education, meaning providing more resources for disadvantaged students. "I think that's a sea change as well. It's not just that we a have governor's office that believes in public education, but we have a governor's office that has a very clear view of leveling the playing field and giving every kid a shot."