Legislature must fix the deficit so that we can focus on education

This week Gov. Tom Wolf rightfully vetoed Republican-sponsored legislation that continues to focus on school cuts rather than educational investment.

Five years ago Republicans supported Gov. Tom Corbett’s $1 billion cut to K-12 schools. Those cuts created chaos in classrooms statewide. At the same time, Republicans pushed a new teacher evaluation system that is proving to have problems similar to the now-delayed Keystone Exams.

Pennsylvania's first priority should be investing in its schools and hiring more teachers, not shortchanging kids by laying off their most experienced and dedicated teachers. It’s time to move forward, and time for Republicans and Democrats to come together on a state budget that puts a greater focus on educational investment from pre-school through college.

Speaking of college, a new study shows public universities in Pennsylvania have been losing state funding at twice the rate of schools in other states.

The Corbett cuts of 2011 contributed to that distinction and caused a loss of funding for various Pennsylvania universities of between 18 to 22 percent. As a result, the average tuition debt of college graduates in Pennsylvania is $33,264. Only graduates in New Hampshire face higher debt. High tuition rates and high student debt is hurting both access to education and Pennsylvania's workforce and businesses.

The modest 5 percent increase in the 2015-16 budget still leaves state funding for most public universities in PA at 1990s levels. More can and should be done.

Key to fixing Pennsylvania’s education system is addressing the nearly $2 billion structural budget deficit. The current deficit makes it impossible to invest in basic and higher education and the other priorities that Pennsylvania needs.

The legislature must make an honest attempt to fix the structural deficit now and pass sustainable budgets year after year. Our education and economic future depends on it.