Governor’s Cabinet Members Discuss Education, Substance Abuse and Infrastructure

Members of Governor Wolf’s cabinet who participated in the meeting were (left to right) Pedro Rivera, Secretary of Education; John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections; Leslie S. Richards, Secretary of Transportation; Colonel Tyree Blocker, Commissioner PA State Police; and Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture.

Members of Governor Wolf’s cabinet were in Bloomsburg on Monday, March 12, as part of a series of “Cabinet in Your Community” meetings across the state. Community members were invited to ask questions of the secretaries of Agriculture, Transportation, Corrections, Education, and the Commissioner of the PA State Police. During the 90-minute meeting, topics included workforce and education, rural broadband expansion, and how the Commonwealth is helping to deal with the opioid crisis.

When asked about workforce development, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera reviewed some of the input gathered from the Middle Class Task Force meetings held last fall. The Chamber participated in one of these meetings which was co-chaired by PA Chamber President Gene Barr. In the next 10 years, 60 percent of the jobs that will be available will need some form of advanced training or degree, according to Rivera. Only 40 percent of Pennsylvanians currently meet that criteria. Rivera noted that Pennsylvania’s robust education system, from early childhood education, to K-12, career and technical education, the community college network, and the State System of Higher Education and state affiliated universities, needs to be properly positioned to educate its citizens.

Included in that training and education gap is skilled trades. Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel talked about education programs for inmates, including training inmates in job fields that are in demand in their area. Those who receive basic education or job training while incarcerated are 20% less likely to be arrested again, according to Wetzel. He stated that education, including early childhood education, is the key to reducing prison populations.

Sec. Wetzel noted that the biggest challenges facing the prison system are drug offenses and those with mental illness. He acknowledged that more treatment facilities and programs are needed to properly deal with these issues. One program that he hopes more counties will participate in is funding for medically-assisted drug treatment for inmates.

State Police Commissioner Colonel Tyree Blocker added that the State Police work to maintain connections with local and federal law enforcement to provide resources as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the opioid crisis.

Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards talked about the development of autonomous vehicles and Pennsylvania’s efforts to support this new technology, and also understand the implications to workforce. As a comprehensive fiber optic network is necessary for the technology to work, PennDOT and other departments are discussing funding models, rights of way, and other issues to support broadband expansion. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding identified broadband expansion as the “single most important economic effort” in Pennsylvania.

On another timely topic of school safety, Commissioner Blocker stated that he wasn’t sure arming teachers is the right way to improve school safety. Sec. Rivera also noted that the Dept. of Education is not making a recommendation to the governor about arming teachers. Rather, several departments are evaluating safety protocols in schools.