LA PLUME — The pursuit of political careers. Drug testing for welfare recipients. Economic benefits vs. environmental impacts of fracking. Medical marijuana. Common Core Curriculum in Pennsylvania.
The topics covered by regional high school students in an open question and answer session during Friday’s Youth and Government Forum at Keystone College were diverse. But by far the most popular topic of the day was the delay in the passing of the state budget and its effects on public schools and education.
One student to address this topic was Marcede Harding, of Old Forge High School.
“We’re a hands-on school district, and there are certain things we cannot do because we do not have a budget,” she said, addressing the panel of politicians, media leaders and other professionals. “At Old Forge, we can’t do certain activities, because we do not have enough money to do them.
“What is being done? It doesn’t seem like anything is being done. Some teachers are talking about shutting down schools, some teachers are talking about leaving, programs are being shut down. Why should we have to suffer, while you guys are trying to get a budget passed? It doesn’t seem fair. I’m getting ready to go to college and now I have to worry about my school being shut down and me not graduating on time.”
State Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich sympathized with her concerns, adding the problem needs to be solved in a way in which it will not continue to repeat itself.
“I think the general consensus is that it will not reach that point where schools will close, he said. “But it shouldn’t happen that you have to go through the stress of worrying whether or not your schools will close. …It all goes back to the leaders we have in Harrisburg, who are negotiating and refuse to come to the table and compromise with a sensible budget, something that is not only going to take care of the problems today, but take care of the problems of the future, for those who follow you in school.”
He added it is important for the younger generations to “pay attention” to such issues and be informed when it comes time to vote.
Another student, Jacob Furneaux, Lackawanna Trail High School, addressed the same topic from an economics standpoint.
“It seems like revenue – a lack of revenue – is the biggest problem,” he said. “I’ve heard increases in income tax, sales tax, property tax, all as possible solutions. All these solutions throw the burden onto the average Pennsylvania citizen. This just doesn’t seem fair, necessarily. There are other modes that we can use to raise taxes.
“The corporate tax I didn’t hear much of at all. Big corporations can afford to be taxed. We need to raise these corporate taxes in order to fund education, in order to make it so we can have all these programs that are being cut, to make it so that education in Pennsylvania is one of the best in the United States of America. But right now, it just seems like no one is paying attention to where we can actually get revenue and putting more emphasis on taking more revenue from the average citizens.”
Kavulich responded with examples of this, such as the “Delaware loophole” (a corporate method of tax avoidance) and Pennsylvania’s failure to tax smokeless tobacco.
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack also agreed, responding simply with “right on,” which garnered the applause of the majority of the student audience.
The five-hour event, at which seven school districts were represented, also included four smaller sessions on the media’s role in government, job creations and government opportunities, the electoral process and optional educational opportunities with the trades. At the close of the forum, students gathered for lunch, courtesy of Keystone College.
Harding said although she felt her questions about the “suffering” of high school seniors caused by the failure to pass the state budget were not fully answered, she enjoyed the event and learned a lot about “government and how everything works” and “what politics are really about.”
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.