Posts Tagged public policy

The Worm in the Education Apple

There is an old saying in politics that “perception is reality.”  That is how former Governor Tom Corbett got blamed for cuts in funding to public education that never happened.  To this day many Pennsylvanians believe he took an axe to education funding when in fact he left office with more state dollars being spent on K-12 education than at any point in the commonwealth’s history.

To drive the point home, Governor Tom Wolf campaigned promising to be the education governor.  He has done more to damage public education than any governor in recent history. This reality has been cloaked in the perception that he is pro-education.  In fact Wolf is really just pro-union, propping up a system that fails both students and taxpayers.

It is true he has proposed historic increases in education spending – and the higher taxes to fund that spending.  But, the proposed increases in both taxing and spending are so large they have proven politically impossible to implement. The untenable nature of these increases are such that even in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of the state capitol some Democrats have refused to go along.

The chances of Governor Wolf getting Republican support for more reasonable increases in k-12 public education spending are high if, as demanded by GOP leadership, reforms to cost drivers are included.  But the governor has adopted a “my way or the highway” attitude which gridlocked the process and produced a historic budget stand-off.

In the process of fighting that battle, the so-called education governor pushed school districts across Penn’s Woods to the cusp of closing due to the lack of state dollars flowing into their coffers.  Worse, many had to borrow money to keep their doors open, incurring costs that took dollars away from students.  His administration, willing to spend money to keep state bureaucracy operating, turned down appeals from school districts for relief.

Even if Governor Wolf were to push his education spending increases through the legislature precious few dollars would ever be spent benefitting students.  That is because the state’s pension system has become fiscally unsound. Its investments are under-performing projections and too generous benefits are draining the system faster than current employees add new dollars.  At the school district level, property taxes are rising to cover costs and the preponderance of any new state dollars directed to education must go to prop up the system as well.

June a year ago the legislature passed significant pension reform.  It was immediately vetoed by the governor who parroted the union line that the system is fine, just underfunded.  Thus an opportunity to at least partially address a major cost driver was missed.  The end result: fewer dollars available to directly benefit students.

Governor Wolf has also been waging a war on charter schools.  Even more so than traditional public schools, charters operate with minimal cash flow.  The epic budget battle resulted in teacher lay-offs, and even the closing of some charter schools.  More will likely close as the governor implements administrative policies aimed at forcing charter schools out of existence.  These policies are designed to deny parents and students valuable educational choices in an effort to preserve the union-dominated monopoly of public schools.

The latest example of Governor Wolf placing union interests over student interests involves legislation that would replace the seniority-based system for determining teacher lay-offs with a merit based system.  In other words, instead of “last in, first out” the best teachers would be retained.  At present, the legislation is on Governor Wolf’s desk – and he has vowed a veto.

Unless you are doing Common Core math, when you add all these factors together what you get is a governor whose every action has harmed students and made the state’s system of public education even more fiscally fragile than it was when he took office.  All of this is being done to prop up the very labor unions that financed the governor’s election.  For taxpayers, and for students, it is a very large worm in the education apple.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.


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Don’t Agree? Govern by Decree!

Proponent s of conservative public policy increasingly advocate that states invoke their right of nullification, essentially invalidate federal laws with which they strongly disagree or view as unconstitutional. But it is the American Left which has put nullification into practice. And they have done so with an ominous twist – the decisions are being made by individual officeholders, not by the states.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has roiled the political waters by refusing to defend a duly enacted state law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Her action, or lack thereof, came after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court against the Pennsylvania statute in the wake of recent rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States.

In attempting to justify her refusal to perform the duties of the office to which she only recently ascended, Kane proclaimed the law prohibiting same-sex unions to be unconstitutional. She also professed to be bound by legal ethics not to defend a client (the commonwealth) with whom she has a personal disagreement. Therefore, neither she nor anyone in her independently elected office would defend the statute in court.

This is not the first time the Attorney General has confused her job with that of a state Supreme Court Justice. Several months ago Kane invalidated a contract negotiated by the Corbett Administration with a British firm to take over operations of the Pennsylvania Lottery. Kane tossed the contract claiming it was unconstitutional. It is not, however, the job of the Attorney General to determine the constitutionality of laws, that is the job of the state Supreme Court.

Setting aside the specific issue of same sex marriage, Kane’s refusal to defend a law enacted by a majority of both houses of the General Assembly and signed by the Governor is a chilling example of nullification by the Left. The Attorney General has essentially declared she has the legal power to act as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government combined. If she disagrees with a law, or personally views it as unconstitutional, then she will either block its implementation or refuse to uphold it.

Further, the action is apparently unprecedented. Former Attorney General Ernie Preate told the Pennsylvania Independent that: “What happened . . . had never happened before and that is when the attorney general announces at a press conference that she is not going to defend a lawsuit in which she is a named party.” Preate also questioned the effectiveness of her action stating: “The courts do not recognize litigation by press release. The court will only recognize one thing. You’ve got to come in as the defendant in the case and file answers.”

This much is clear: the Attorney General of Pennsylvania has refused to fulfill the duties and obligations of her office, opting instead to climb into the bully pulpit and publicly posture on an emotionally-charged public policy issue. That she holds a personal opinion on the subject at hand is her right as a citizen; that she would utilize her office to unilaterally nullify a state law is unacceptable.

But, nullification by the Left has become something of an art form in recent years. One needs look no further than the President of the United States who, when Congress refuses to accede to his policy goals, simply issues executive orders. Congress won’t pass Cap and Trade or enact a carbon tax? Issue sweeping executive orders placing a wide range of environmental restrictions on business. Congress won’t pass additional gun control legislation? No problem, tighten regulations by executive order. Even when Congress does pass what he wants – as in the case of the Affordable Health Care Act/Obamacare – the administration issues waivers or delays implementation of key components when the law harms a key constituency or proves unworkable.

Simply put the political Left in America feels so strongly about the superiority of its own beliefs it is willing to trample, by-pass, and nullify the governing structure of the national and state constitutions. Don’t agree? Then govern by decree! That is what has been happening for the past five years at the national level. It is an attitude, and a tactic that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has clearly adopted.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. He was executive assistant to former Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate. Contact him at

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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