Tom Corbett is Very Unpopular

No Pennsylvania governor has ever been voted out of office, but that is about to change. I have never been certain exactly why Tom Corbett is so unpopular, especially when compared with the Republican governors of Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Maine, and Wisconsin. But education policy is a big part of it. It just wasn’t a good idea for Corbett to give the commencement address at Millersville University. Millersville is a state-run teacher’s college, so in addition to being students, the graduates are intent on becoming educators. That’s a doubly bad crowd for the governor.

You could hear a pin drop on Chryst Field at Biemesderfer Stadium when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett finished his commencement speech Saturday at Millersville University.

Normally, such speeches elicit rowdy applause from the students awaiting their diplomas.

Not this time.

Millersville’s 2013 graduating class refused to clap.

About a dozen students – and at least three professors – weren’t even facing Corbett.

When he started to speak, they stood up, turned their chairs around and sat back down.

The students were quite clear on why they weren’t pleased to have Corbett give their address.

  • “I turned my chair around because I felt like I needed to show my disapproval of the cuts that were going to be taken to the budget for public education in Pennsylvania,” [Chet Klinedinst] said.
    “I felt like it was disrespectful to our class. I understand that you can’t just say no to the governor, so it would be disrespectful to just turn him away, but at the same time, we worked for four years for some reward to earn a degree, and it just seemed a little disrespectful in regards to his relation to public education.”
  • “Especially being a school known for teachers graduating … I know he’s not supporting our school system,” said Mallory Austin of Kennett Square.
  • “It’s just been hard to get all of our classes in,” Melanie Craig said. “I know both of us have taken summer and winter classes in order to graduate on time. Classes were cut and there aren’t enough professors.”
  • “I feel kind of a little hurt that he’s here,” [Susanna Sing] said beforehand. “I understand why he’s here, and I hope that we can be adult enough to be appropriate and give him the respect he deserves – but also make him understand he kind of hurt us.”
  • “It seems kind of counterintuitive that you would have someone who seems so against the educational system,” he said. “It seems a bit off … a bit of a curious selection,” said Matt Moul.
  • “I don’t agree with any of his positions, and I don’t agree with the decision to have him here,” Kara Williams said. “But at the same time, I’m not going to ruin our graduation by causing a disruption.”
  • In his first year in office, Governor Corbett sought a 50% decrease in education funding, followed by a request for a 30% reduction the next year. Meanwhile, tuition has gone up for Millersville students in every year of the governor’s term.

    And it hasn’t just been college students who have been getting screwed. The Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center issued a report recently that shows how extreme the cuts have been to public schools and how disproportionately those cuts have affected poor school districts and minority communities.

    The report said cuts to state funding for schools made after Gov. Corbett took office three years ago have hurt all districts but have disproportionately harmed those with large numbers of low-income students.

    Before the state’s school funding formula was scrapped in 2011, districts with large numbers of low-income students received additional money from the state.

    “The scale of the funding cuts here in Philadelphia and other low-income districts across the state is simply unprecedented,” Ward said. “Since 2011, Philadelphia has had almost a $294 million reduction in state funding. This is important because a little bit less than 12 percent of students in the commonwealth experienced 35 percent of cuts that were implemented.”

    Philadelphia had the largest cut of all the districts in the state. The center calculated that it lost $1,351 per student. Chester Upland lost $1,194 per student, and some wealthy suburban districts lost from $36 to $59.

    This is not a bug. This is the design.

    I’m just grateful that people are disgusted here and are preparing to do something about this by voting Tom Corbett the hell out of office.

    But I still don’t understand why similar behavior in other states isn’t arousing the same degree of anger.

    [Update: see Noz]

    [Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at