PA Senate Majority Leader warns policies on charter schools, energy could hold commonwealth back

Sen. Jake Corman

Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34) said recent policies and executive actions from the Wolf administration could stifle economic growth and impinge on progress the commonwealth has made in education and the energy sector.

In an interview with Pennsylvania Business Report, Corman shared particular concern with several of Gov. Tom Wolf’s policy actions, including the governor’s recent introduction of measures that will reform the charter school system in Pennsylvania.

“The fact that parents have an option when picking schools for their children is incredibly important,” Corman said. Charter schools “are public schools and the fact that we have them in Pennsylvania is a good thing. What the governor is looking at, however – caps on enrollment – I don’t think is the right course of action.”

Among the Democratic governor’s reforms are several fees paid by the charter schools to the state to defray Department of Education costs in overseeing charter school performance. Proponents say that such fees will hold charter and cyber schools to the same level of accountability as traditional state schools, while opponents are concerned the extra financial burden will have a negative impact on charter school expansion.

Wolf’s reforms would allow charter schools to limit student enrollment at institutions that do not provide a high-quality, equitable education to students and would allow charter schools to cap student enrollment in low-performing cyber charter schools until improvements are seen.

“Looking at reasonable tuition rates and transparent policies in the area of cyber and charter education would be a great way to keep the institutions accountable to the state and Education Department, just not in the area of enrollment caps,” he said. “We are open to discussion on ways to do it better because, in the end, we want to see them succeed just as we do any other school in the state.”

Corman shared similar insight into his ideas about Pennsylvania’s approach to clean water regulations and climate change precautions as a major energy producer.

“We should all be concerned with clean water and clean air,” Corman said. “But the country is in as good a shape as it’s ever been in that area. [Pennsylvania] will continue to invest in developing technology and energy solutions in the cleanest fashion possible and we have made significant progress in that.”

The governor pushed for the commonwealth to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by signing an executive order last week. The RGGI, a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has been criticized for imposing a carbon tax on any carbon-emitting electric generation or usage in the commonwealth.

Corman said he was hesitant to support the move.

“Pennsylvania is out ahead of many states when it comes to reducing carbon emissions through the RGGI compact,” he told Pennsylvania Business Report. “Coal and natural gas development in the commonwealth is a significant producer of jobs in the state and we are continuing to build and improve on that. We’re open to all ideas for the energy economy.”

“But joining a compact where you give up state independence, in an area where we are already making improvements seems shortsighted and leaves us open to the possibility of being stuck with the poor decisions and outcomes for others in the agreement. It is important for us to understand all the facts and not give in to the hysteria.”

In the arena of Pennsylvania’s economic welfare, Corman said that the effective and enhanced development of business taxes and practices, particularly for high-tech businesses, within the state are a must.

“There are improvements to be made. Regulatory burdens, permitting burdens, it all needs to be improved. Our [corporate net income tax] is among the highest in the nation and that should be a blinking light that things need to change,” Corman said. “That’s not to say that we are not seeing some successes. We are seeing the largest employment group in the history of the commonwealth, the largest wages earned in the history of the commonwealth. Good development signs. We just need to remember that it is always important to improve.”

Last year, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were considered as locations for the second Amazon headquarters. The decision eventually went to Washington, D.C., and temporarily, New York. Corman said that in instances like that, Pennsylvania always has to be asking what can be done better.

“When a big company looks at you and chooses somewhere else, you have to conduct some kind of an exit interview,” he said. “Was is the workforce element, resources, infrastructure? What was it that we’re lacking? We want to keep our young people here and keep our jobs here. We’re training high-tech professionals all throughout our excellent education system, but they’re going elsewhere for high-tech jobs. This means there are issues and shortages we need to identify and address.”

Going forward, Corman said, it is critical that various stakeholders improve on their ability to work with the state government.

“People, businesses, institutions have to work with various departments and not see that as a time-consuming, costly roadblock,” he said. “We need to do better. The administration has to affect the most change, but the legislature has to provide the best oversight so that the administration can implement the best change.”