Eichelberger plans ‘aggressive agenda’

Senator to chair Education Committee

Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, is bringing an “agressive agenda” as he takes the reins of the Senate Education Committee in 2017.

“We want to measure programs and spend money on what works and not on what doesn’t. We have government schools, private schools, parochial schools, cyber charters — and public money is spent on all of these things,” Eichelberger said.

Reviews of public school transportation, higher education programs and vocational programs are also on the agenda, he said.

Eichelberger was named as committee chairman this week.

The Blair County Republican and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the public school teachers union, have had an adversarial relationship through the years.

“They (the union)  called for an appointment in Harrisburg. As chairman, I’m going to meet with them. There will be some ground rules applied,” he said.

Blair County teacher union representatives and the central region office did not return calls from the Mirror for comment Friday.

“My goal is to work with good teachers and administrators across the state to fund things that work; education spending with best possible outcomes for students and taxpayers,” Eichelberger said.

“We have an aggressive agenda,” he said. “It’s going to be a comprehensive project that will take a lot of time, but we are going to have a significant start this spring. We are going to start new legislation early on.”

The Senate education chairman post opened up after former chairman, Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, did not seek re-election.

“(Education Committee chairman) is something I had an interest in. The state is looking at significant budget issues this year. Education is one of the top three budgets for the state. We will be looking at ways to approach the budget responsibly. (The Legislature) is also looking at health and human services. Those will be the primary concerns when we get into debates.”

Eichelberger assumes his new position as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf prepares to propose his budget in February.

The state faces a 2017 budgetary shortfall of

$600 million, according to The Associated Press.

Wolf has said he will not request a broad-based tax increase but that doesn’t exclude taxes on industries such as tobacco or vaping, Eichelberger said.

“I think he is looking at a combination of those kinds of taxes, and we will have to look at ways to spend money more efficiently.”

Eichelberger also expects the federal government to pass down mandates that will affect education in the states. “I don’t know what that brings yet,” he said.

Senate officials announced Thursday that Eichelberger will serve as chairman of the Education Committee for the next two years.

Eichelberger’s previous spot as Finance Committee chairman will go to Sen. Scott Hutchinson of Venango County.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.