Monday, June 09, 2014

Corbett is going to lose because of his education cuts

It is no mystery to me. I think Corbett's unpopularity is almost all because of his deep education cuts. As a parent I hear people bring up the cuts fairly regularly. I overheard other parents talking about it at a playground a few weeks ago. Corbett's hostility to education funding comes up at birthday parties for pre-school age kids (who won't go to public schools for another year or two). That is true even in my relatively affluent area, where the cuts haven't been so bad and the parents can afford private school

When I go to rural parts of the state for my work it seems like Corbett's cuts are a major issue for anyone who interacts with the local schools. That means all the students and their families, all employees of the schools and their families, and all of the school board members. In some communities that is a large percentage of the total population. And I'm talking about the "Alabama in between" part of the State, where things are pretty conservative. I have yet to meet anyone who approves of Corbett's education funding.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to negotiate a contract with a school district in rural PA, the main issue being the huge budget cuts the district is being forced to make. This was just after the primary had determined that Tom Wolf would be Corbett's opponent and Wolf was already ahead of the polls. A school custodian was telling me that he thought that Corbett would soon send a lot more money to the schools. "He has to before the election," the custodian said, "if he doesn't he is a goner."

I think Corbett's troubles is a symptom of a larger political strategy that is starting to backfire on the Republicans. Since the 1980s, Republicans have gotten a lot of mileage by railing against wasteful government bureaucrats. For most of that time, the criticism exempted teachers. Conservatives could trash talk teachers' unions, but the teachers themselves were still held up on a pedestal.

Maybe it started with No Child Left Behind, or the charter school movement, or possibly something else, but at some point conservatives started blaming a lot of education woes on teachers themselves. First it was just the bad teachers who have tenure under union contracts. But recently, the criticism seems to have evolved beyond talk of just individual "bad teachers" to treating teachers in general as incompetent and overpaid.

I think that is starting to backfire, because a lot of people--the kind of people that vote--have personal experience with teachers and don't buy the incompetent and overpaid framing. It is easy to trash talk some faceless government bureaucrat who administers a program behind the scenes or assists low income people who mostly don't vote. Attacking your child's teacher and making things noticeably worse in your kid's school is going to hit a nerve for just the kind of people that a sensible politician would never want to piss off.

That's why Corbett is dead meat. His very public slashing of education budgets in Pennsylvania has doomed his reelection campaign. I know in the political world, there still is a lot of time until November. But I just don't see how he can dig himself out of this hole in time.

UPDATE: Like I was saying...