Scranton — President Barack Obama took aim at states, like Pennsylvania, that have cut support from education during a speech on college affordability at Lackawanna College.
As he concluded his two-day New York/PA bus tour to promote his college affordability plan, Obama was joined by Vice President and Scranton native Joe Biden.
The President lambasted recent cuts to state education funding.
“Incomes are flat, and the state actually reduces its support for higher education,” Obama said, referring to budgets supported by Republicans including Gov. Tom Corbett. “Here in Pennsylvania, there have been brutal cuts to, not just higher education, but to education in general.”
“That means that state legislatures cannot just keep cutting support for public colleges and universities,” he continued.
Pa. Democrats have continuously blasted Corbett over funding cuts for basic and higher education.
Corbett proposed reducing state funding for state-owned and -related colleges by 50% in the 2011-2012 budget; he signed into law a budget that cut 18%. He proposed a 20% to 30% cut for 2012-2013, and proposed flat-funding them in 2013-2014. Ultimately cuts amounting to about 18% were enacted in 2011 and higher education has been flat-funded since.
Basic K-12 education is more debatable. Democrats accuse Corbett and Republicans of reducing ed funding by $1 billion, but they include in that sum federal stimulus dollars that expired when the Governor’s term began.
“If the President is looking for someone to blame for education cuts he should grab a mirror. It’s his one-time funds from the failed stimulus package that artificially increased the education budget to unsustainable levels,” said Corbett campaign manager Mike Barley. “Despite this legislative malpractice, Governor Corbett has devoted more state funding to education than any time in our Commonwealth’s history.”
Although he won Pa. by 5% in 2012, Obama’s jab could have the effect of boosting Corbett. The President’s numbers have been sagging nationally, and many observers expect the so-called 6-year itch to boost Republicans in 2014. That’s particularly true if the economic recovery continues to lag in places like northeastern Pa. – where unemployment has held at over 9%.
“The President’s comments make it clear that he has no meaningful plans for education reform,” Barley continued. “His plan remains the same as it always has – raise taxes on the middle class and spend more money. These are the same tired policies from a President who doesn’t have to balance a budget and continues to simply pass the buck.”
However, if Obama is a political liability it has yet to show in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Corbett’s opponents have all been vocal in their support for the President. Likewise, Democratic officials including Sen. Bob Casey, Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Congressman Matt Cartwright each greeted the President openly on Friday.
While Obama charged state legislatures and Congress to act, he also said that the work cannot be done solely by government.
“It means colleges have to work harder to prevent tuition from going up year after year,” Obama said. “Our economy cannot afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt. We can’t outprice the middle class.”
Obama emphasized the three main goals he laid out in Binghamton Thursday in response to the rising student debt.
The plan involves tying financial aid to a university’s performance through a new Department of Education-created rating system, promoting competition between universities to offer the most cost-effective options and ensuring that student debt is affordable by allowing borrowers to cap their payments at 10 percent of their income.
“Colleges that keep their tuition down, while providing high quality education, we want to see their taxpayer support go up,” Obama said.
At the beginning of his speech, Obama praised Lackawanna College for its efforts to provide a high-quality education at a low price.
Biden, during his remarks introducing Obama, said cities like Scranton and colleges like Lackawanna College are a place of opportunity for the middle class.
“I’d like to introduce you, Mr. President, to the community that informed everything I believe. My absolute conviction is that if you give ordinary folks a fighting chance, they can do extraordinary things,” Biden said. “My absolute conviction is that the middle class is what makes this country great, what built this country and what binds it today.”
“The middle class isn’t a number, it’s about understanding in your bones,” Biden said. “The middle class is not a value set, it’s about being able to own your home, and not just rent it, it’s about being in a safe neighborhood where you can walk the streets, it’s about the dignity of a job that allows you to support your family.”
It’s Obama’s first visit to Pa. since November, when he pushed his plan to avoid to fiscal cliff in Montgomery County in southeastern Pa.
Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.