WHO IS responsible for second-graders at Solis-Cohen Elementary School, in Northeast Philadelphia, not being able to have access to toilet paper when they use the bathrooms at the school?

This question intrigued me and my radio listeners this week because Democratic candidate for governor Tom Wolf visited Solis-Cohen and was confronted by emotional second-grade teacher Marta O'Brien.

According to news accounts at www.newsworks.org, O'Brien told Wolf, "I don't think that children should have to be degraded, to come back to a classroom and say, 'Can I have toilet paper?' They have to actually say, 'I'm about to have a bowel movement' in front of people."

Newsworks reporter Kevin McCorry reports that she choked back tears as she said this. He also reports that O'Brien claimed that these kids are being treated differently from kids 30 minutes away. I believe that Mrs. O'Brien was referring to kids in the suburbs.

Since Wolf has pledged to raise education funding by higher taxes on natural-gas drilling and by raising state income taxes on the wealthy (apparently, according to one analysis, those making $77,800 a year and more), he is not responsible for second-graders having to beg for toilet paper.

That leaves Gov. Corbett. That's right, Corbett is so mean and has cut so much in education funding that he doesn't care if kids have to beg for toilet paper. Since Corbett is so intent on funding prisons and underfunding the public schools, the narrative goes, he wants these kids on the failed-schools-to-prison pipeline anyway. He knows they'll have plenty of toilet paper when they get to Graterford Prison.

Let me suggest some alternatives to Tom Corbett and the stingy taxpayers statewide that he represents as being the culprits in the great toilet-paper debate. How about the people running the Philadelphia public schools? With a budget in the neighborhood of $3 billion a year, how is it that no toilet paper makes it to the school? Is it an efficiency problem? Is toilet paper wildly expensive? Is there a secret plan to install bidets in the near future?

Let me suggest another alternative. Maybe the principal has decided to remove the toilet paper because some students misuse it, causing waste and plumbing problems. I don't know if this is the case because the people at Solis-Cohen have rejected my requests for an interview. Perhaps Oliver Stone can weigh in with a "single-roll theory."

No, this toilet paper issue is a clear example of the emotionality that is driving the debate over education spending. Do we really buy the idea that a $3 billion budget can't ensure the availability of toilet paper for second-graders? Since Solis-Cohen won't talk to me, maybe other media outlets can get them to explain how much money is allotted to them every year for toilet paper.

Of course, this debate over school funding is playing out over the whole state in the governor's race, and the Commonwealth Foundation recently asked voters about expenditures. They found that voters often greatly underestimated how much is being spent.

They found that the average estimate on per-pupil spending statewide was actually 46 percent lower than the actual level of $14,620 (in 2012-13). They found that the average estimate on the average of teachers' salaries statewide was 26 percent below the actual average of $63,000. They also found that 66 percent were surprised when informed that Pennsylvania spends more than $2,900 more per student than the national average.

Why is the public unaware of these figures? Could it be because they are seeing layoffs in school districts and property taxes going up but they are not connecting the dots to two big drivers of costs? A temporary one is that some districts padded their budgets with federal stimulus dollars, and when those went away, they were stuck. The long-term driver is the legislatively mandated increases to the state pension fund, which already was a huge driver of costs.

The debate in this governor's race ought to be about issues like how to get pension costs under control. However, I'd love to hear the debate about why kids at Solis-Cohen can't get toilet paper.