POLS ON THE STREET: Campaigns Gear up for Fall Semester

Filed under: Featured News |

U.S. SEN. BOB CASEY was in town last week campaigning hard. He visited James Rhoads School in West Philadelphia to stress the need to allocate federal money to rehabilitate the city’s aged school infrastructure. With Casey, L-R, were Evelyn Sample-Oates, Board of Education chief of family & community engagement; Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; Danielle Floyd, Board of Education COO; and State Sen. Vincent Hughes. Photo by Wendell Douglas

One of the biggest dilemmas facing elected officials as they head into the fall general-election season is that, aside from a relatively small number of politically savvy types, nobody much cares about them in August. In the dog days, the ordinary voter’s heart and mind is set on wringing the last bit of relaxation out of the summer season.

But politicians cannot afford to take the summer off. An election can turn on a fraction of an advantage, so they must pursue voters’ attention regardless – but how?
Welcome to back-to-school days.

An important subset of voters – parents – are also thinking ahead during August. There are clothes and supplies to be bought, programs to be checked out and children to be fussed over. Schools matter to parents; therefore, political campaigners are stressing that schools matter to them.

This happens at the federal level. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), for instance, is calling attention to his work to promote career and technical education. In addition, on a campaign swing through Philadelphia last week, he visited a public school and vowed to seek money in Washington to shore up dilapidated city school plants.

In the other statewide race, for governor, incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf and his Republican challenger State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) have been tearing at each other’s stances on funding public education.

Wagner’s campaign has developed a charge that Wolf’s support for the Fair Funding Formula, which went into effect in 2016 after a bipartisan majority in the General Assembly enacted it, will cut $1.2 billion in funding from largely rural counties. It is pushing this narrative hard in Central and Western Pennsylvania, where Wagner needs big majorities.

The Fair Funding Formula is complex and currently limited in its effect, due to the “hold harmless” clause; nevertheless, most policy wonks agree it was a needed reform. And Wolf is not, in fact, proposing such drastic cuts in rural counties at this time – not that he even has the power to carry them out.

Furthermore, Wagner himself has called the “hold harmless” clause “madness” – but that was then, and this is now.

For his part, Wolf’s campaign is pressing a charge that Wagner will cut school funding – a move that Wagner has specifically denied.

So goes campaigning in the dog days. There will be time later to back away from extreme claims, if forced to. What matters most right now is to catch, with luck, a worried parent’s ear.

Locally, many city legislators are organizing back-to-school giveaways at public festivals. That’s a fine way to campaign: It does some good and tells no lies.

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