HARRISBURG — With Gov. Tom Wolf set to deliver his fifth budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate this Tuesday, now seems as good a time as any to ask how the Democratic governor and the Republican General Assembly will deliver on the promises they made to voters last November.
I’m fully aware of the “pressures” that politicians face from their constituents and special interests, and sometimes those promises will remain unfulfilled. Speaking to business leaders, public servants and other Capital City residents, it’s no surprise to learn that they’ve haven’t been entirely satisfied with state government’s performance so far.
Equally unsurprising: The future of public education topped their list of concerns.
When I asked them what kind of innovative programming the state could provide for families, city residents Kia Hansard, a youth advocate, and Star Williams, a teacher, suggested that, at the school board level, “officials and school staff need to be less judgmental with their approach concerning parent engagement and be more supportive with parent involvement.”
Both want to see more effective spending on professional development for educators.
Querida Smith-Lewis, also a teacher, suggests the state “[develop] programs for parents to further their education in efforts to make them more knowledgeable on classroom atmosphere and instruction, to better assist their child educationally.”
Harlem McKinnie, who works in security at the Harrisburg Mall, wants to see more “money being spent on projects focused on youth programming,” as well.
It’s not hard to conclude that, just as art, music and technical programs keep students engaged in the classroom, incorporating them into afterschool and weekend activities would also keep them motivated.
We can’t shy away from the fact that when children excel creatively, that their test scores and classroom behaviors improve.
When it comes to public safety, McKinnie argued that, instead of pushing for gentrification, inner-city neighborhoods should be renovated so those who have called them home for generations won’t be forced out of their homes. That would allow them to rightfully enjoy their neighborhoods, cutting back on so much “looking-over-the-shoulder” mentality due to unfortunate crime and violence.
Ana Perez-Rivero, a Harrisburg business owner, advocates for more mental health funding for within the school system. She would also like to see more “money spent on collaborative services for family reunifications and family sustainability.”
A senior at Sci-Tech High School in Harrisburg said she had mixed feelings about the presence of police officers in the hallways. The student said that, if they’re going to be there, those resource officers should be proactive rather than reactive. And if there are more officers in the schools, would that mean there’d be additional hiring throughout the city?
Wolf and lawmakers will face significant challenges as they work on ths spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. And the implications of that work will be long-reaching. The laundry list full of concerns from the people by the people will indubitably pile up.
All I ask is that Wolf and lawmakers throw their backs into this work, use the opportunity before you to listen to everyone in Pennsylvania so we don’t have to wonder if you can hear us now.
Pennsylvania Capital-Star Opinion contributor Anwar Curtis, of Harrisburg, tells the stories of the people of the Keystone State’s capital city. His work appears biweekly. Follow him on Twitter @ACTheMayor.