The governor has proposed a staggering 50 percent cut in funding for state-system and state-related colleges and universities and a 10 percent cut for basic education. At the same time, he has proposed a $31.1 million increase in funding for the state Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Why are we prioritizing incarceration over education in Pennsylvania?
The governor pointed out “our inability to control tuition” during his budget address. However, the governor was misinformed.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest education organization in the state, with more than 120,000 students. The fact is that in the past five years, PASSHE’s tuition increases have been about half of those experienced by similar public institutions across the country.
Tuition increases at the 14 state universities have been below the rate of inflation for four of the past six years. And the total cost of attendance is below the national average among all public universities and almost $2,500 below the average of public universities in the Mid- Atlantic region.
As a member of the governing board of the State System of Higher Education, I know that we have been able to hold the line on tuition increases because we’ve been cutting the fat in state-system colleges and universities for almost a decade. These efforts now further complicate our ability to deal with the extreme budget cuts proposed by the governor.
In order to compensate for the decrease in funding, state-system and state-related universities would need to raise tuition by a completely unrealistic 25 percent to 35 percent. The governor’s catastrophic cuts to higher education, as well as basic education, could make the American dream much harder to attain for Pennsylvania children and families.
In his budget address, the governor showed his lack of experience in an executive role. Anyone with strong experience in this area would not have stood before the General Assembly and the residents of Pennsylvania and announced these drastic cuts without first discussing the impact with the affected groups. Even the bond rating agency Moody’s Investors Service has warned that these extreme cuts could harm the state universities’ credit outlooks. The agency said the state budget’s July 1 effective date does not give schools enough time to reduce expenses or find new revenue before the next academic year begins. A proposal this radical should have been phased in over time, not dropped into the laps of our schools with a minimal timeframe to respond.
Potential solutions to the funding cuts, including potential university mergers, extreme cutbacks and tuition increases far beyond typical could cause the universities’ bond ratings to be downgraded or even put on a credit watch.
Furthermore, Corbett did not justify his drastic cuts to education. His proposal is putting higher education out of reach for many middle-class working families while, at the same time, giving big corporations hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks. He said everyone needs to share in the pain of this budget, but who is really shouldering the burden?
Now is your chance to take action. I encourage all residents to send a message to Gov. Corbett and legislative leaders ( www.pahouse.com).
Tell them to make higher education — not big corporate tax breaks — a priority. I also invite you to visit these Facebook ( www.facebook. com/pacollegecoalition) and Twitter ( twitter.com/pa4colleges) pages for more information and to make your voice heard.
Rep. Mike Hanna represents the 76th Legislative District in Clinton and Centre counties and serves as Democratic whip. He can be reached at his main constituent service office, at 29 Bellefonte Ave., Lock Haven, PA 17745 or at 570- 748-5480.