As Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is struggling in the infancy of his re-election bid, a new poll taken by Public Opinion Strategies suggests that he should attack Philadelphia teachers unions in order to bolster his approval rating.
Considering major education cuts have been a driver of a low approval rating thus far, the recommendation comes as a bit of a surprise. Under the guise of “reform,” the Philadelphia School Reform Commission is seeking to gut the area’s public school system in favor of charter schools. These pollsters may simply be making a prediction of the outcome of the anti-school effort.
The state-run Philadelphia School Reform Commission has passed a doomsday budget cutting 3,859 teachers, aides, administrators and other staff after shuttering 24 schools. To close a $304 million budget gap and restore cuts, the School District is asking for $60 million in city aid, $120 million from the state, and $133 million from unions — mainly teachers.
The poll suggests that Corbett, a governor who has long suffered from low public-approval ratings, condition state aid to Philadelphia schools on major union concessions and kickstart his hobbled reelection campaign with a high-profile fight against the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Corbett’s Democratic challenger, Allyson Schwartz, lacks name recognition of any sort but is still doing well in polls. This new poll offers ‘divide and conquer’ as a premature last resort for Corbett. Whether or not it is good policy appears irrelevant. Winning is everything:
“With Governor Corbett’s weak job approval, re-elect and ballot support numbers, the current Philadelphia school crisis presents an opportunity for the Governor to wedge the electorate on an issue that is favorable to him,” the poll concludes. “Staging this battle presents Corbett with an opportunity to coalesce his base, focus on a key emerging issue in the state, and campaign against an ‘enemy’ that’s going to aggressively oppose him in ’14 in any case.”
The poll shows that a vast majority of Pennsylvanians think public education is on the wrong track with a smaller majority blaming Corbett’s policies.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that Pennsylvania public education is on the “wrong track,” and 64 percent blame Corbett — 43 percent strongly so. In the Philly suburbs, 84 percent said that the city’s schools are in the wrong track. Seventy percent statewide believe that it is Corbett’s job to help find a solution.
Pennsylvania traditionally elects Democratic governors. Purposefully tanking an entire city’s education system — and debilitating its teachers — won’t change that.