Wolf stresses education

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is at right. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

With a budget aimed at building a strong work force, Gov. Tom Wolf delivered his annual budget address yesterday to members of a state legislature tasked with making his proposals a reality.

Although he stressed that his budget features no new taxes to implement programs, Wolf noted that what he proposes is an investment in the everyday life of residents.

“The people of Pennsylvania have made substantial sacrifices in recent years to help our state get up off the mat — and despite a budget that asks for no new taxes, we now have the chance to continue making some important new investments on their behalf,” he said.

To do this, the governor announced several initiatives aimed at reinforcing new skills through an educated workforce. He noted that over the past four years, the state has created more than 12,000 new businesses and more than 239,000 new jobs.

“We’ve begun to match and advance beyond our neighbors,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to really pull ahead.”

He detailed a proposal to help the economy grow by investing in the workforce – an action he said, “increases opportunity for every Pennsylvanian at every stage of life – from birth to retirement.”

Wolf proposed a package of policies and investments under the blanket of a Statewide Workforce, Education and Accountability Program.

“Across the Commonwealth, we have workers aging out of our workforce, and too often the next generation of worker is not there or doesn’t have the skills to replace them. If we can’t strengthen our workforce, we will fall behind,” Wolf said.

Under the new program, Wolf seeks to create a Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.

He proposed that agency secretaries meet weekly to coordinate workforce efforts.

“If the Department of Community and Economic Development knows a company that needs 20 welders and the Department of Labor and Industry has a welding program, we’re going to connect them,” he said.

A part of the Command Center the governor proposed is an Employer Fund he described as, “a public-private partnership that empowers businesses to address the skills gap from their end and encourages them to share their best ideas and best practices.”

“After all, government doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas for addressing these challenges–but it can serve as an incubator for the best ones, and a partner for putting them in action,” Wolf added.

Insuring that every citizen receives an excellent education in order to have the opportunity to find good jobs is at the heart of Wolf’s proposals.

To this end, he proposes funding home visits to support vulnerable pregnant women, new mothers and at-risk infants and toddlers. He also proposed increasing funding for education, beginning with pre-K and continuing until the end of a student’s journey.

“Pennsylvania’s children deserve every opportunity to succeed when they enter our public school system,” he said.

Wolf is advocating that the compulsory school attendance age be lowered to age 6, as well as studying the costs and benefits of moving to universal full-day kindergarten for five-year-old children in the state. Along with these measures, Wolf proposed raising the minimum dropout age to 18 and partnering with districts to increase the graduation rate.

Wolf introduced a plan to increase the pay floor for state teachers to $45,000 a year. He stressed that this is a fully funded mandate.

“They (teachers) just want safe schools to work in; support from administrative staff; a fair wage for the important work they do. That’s not asking a lot,” he said.

According to Wolf, the law governing teacher pay hasn’t been updated since the 1980s.

Last year, the state launched PAsmart, a comprehensive initiative focusing on STEM skills, apprenticeships, career counseling and public-private partnerships. For 2019, Wolf proposes $10 million in new funding for the program.

The program will enable more advanced manufacturing positions to be filled, help more non-traditional students to obtain training to compete in the job market and create jobs with better wages. It also includes funding for veterans to get the training to enter the workforce. The funding would be transferable so that veterans can use it to help their children get a college degree or career credential.

“It a GI Bill for Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.

The governor also proposed a change in the criminal justice system by improving reentry programs and making it easier for those who have served their sentences to succeed in the workforce.

“It makes investments in workforce readiness: our early childhood system, our schools, our universities, our community colleges, our apprenticeship training programs. It makes investment in ensuring that Pennsylvanians of all ages have real choices when it comes to their health care decisions. And, it continues to prioritize the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Wolf concluded.


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