Note to Philadelphia students, teachers, and parents: Gov. Wolf sees you.
Five months into his term as Pennsylvania's chief executive, he has already spent more time in Philadelphia School District buildings than his predecessor, who never visited one.
Wolf said he has seen and heard and read things that worry him. Take the plight of Lingelbach, the Germantown elementary school that ran an operating budget of $160 for the entire year, brought to light in an Inquirer article and flagged by the governor as a problem he needed to address.
"We have schools that have been starved of the resources they need to operate," Wolf said Friday in his Philadelphia office. "What I saw was great promise. . . . I also saw a lot of problems caused by simple underfunding."
Wolf, a Democrat, has spent much of the early days of his administration stumping for education funding, crisscrossing the state to make a case for a budget that would pump nearly $1 billion more into public schools - including at least $159 million in new money for Philadelphia.
It's proving to be a tough sell, to say the least, in the Republican-led legislature.
But Wolf is firm: Philadelphia schools matter, even to people in his home territory of York County and other parts of the state more accustomed to considering the state's largest district unworthy of investment.
Fixing the district is a moral imperative, he said, but it's more than that.
"This is an investment that actually pays a return, pays a dividend," said Wolf, who keeps an apartment in Philadelphia and said he planned to spend the weekend in the city. "We have got to get this right, or we pay a price down the road - we have a weaker economy, a weaker democracy, we have overcrowding in prisons."
Wolf wants to impose a 5 percent tax on extracted natural gas to raise the cash for schools. Pennsylvania is the only natural-gas producing state in the country that lacks such a tax, he said.
"We need to stop being toyed with," Wolf said. "We need to recognize that if we did have one, like all the other states, we could have money that we could invest in our education system."
In a wide-ranging interview, Wolf also addressed the future of the School Reform Commission.
His preferred form of governance for the district?
"Local control," Wolf said.
Not just yet.
As long as the state is shirking its fiscal responsibility to schools, the SRC is necessary, the governor said.
Wolf said the SRC "is doing a phenomenal job in terms of the narrow range of choices and options it has."
Wolf said Pennsylvania lags the rest of the United States for state support of public schools, and said that this has hit Philadelphia hard, with its high concentration of needy learners and inability to raise enough money locally.
With adequate funding, "like every other school district in Pennsylvania, local control would be the right option" for Philadelphia, Wolf said.
The SRC is unpopular in many city circles, as evidenced by a recent nonbinding referendum that favored local control over the current state-run system.
Wolf would not say whether the SRC made the right move by attempting to cancel its teachers' contract in October. The state Supreme Court is weighing the propriety of that action; the district lost the case in a lower court.
But, Wolf said, many district actions "are a function of the state in a lot of ways not doing what it's supposed to do."
Wolf also weighed in on a proposal being floated by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster) to up the ante for school accountability, creating a state-run "achievement district" for Pennsylvania's lowest performers.
He said that while he had some concerns about the specifics of Smucker's proposal, he was willing to work with him.
"The process of looking for a fair accountability system makes perfect sense," Wolf said. If a school system is not working, he said, "I think it's appropriate for the state to step in and say, 'We're going to make some changes.' "
Wolf also said he was optimistic that a state commission charged with arriving at an education-funding formula was on track.
"I continue to be hopeful that they're going to come up with good results," he said.
The commission missed a recent deadline to deliver its recommendations, but has said it will issue them next week.
Pennsylvania faces three kinds of deficits, Wolf said - an education deficit based on the cuts of the past several years, a structural budget deficit, and a trust deficit based on the "unfair" way money now spent on education has been raised.
He said he was honor-bound to help remedy all three.
"What we've been doing hasn't worked," Wolf said. "We need to strategically make this investment, chart a new course, and education has to be at the centerpiece of this course."