Pa. Senate plan would create new state commission to study higher ed. funding issues

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    State lawmakers have already come up with a “Fair Funding Formula” for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, so it was only a matter of time before the Keystone State’s public universities and colleges got their turn.

    Republican state Sens. Ryan Aument, of Lancaster County, and Pat Browne, of Lehigh County, began circulating their proposal Monday to create a new “Public Higher Education Funding Commission” that would both come up with that funding formula and “make recommendations related to … higher education issues.”

    The commission would be made up of the chairs and ranking Democratic members of the House and Senate Education and Appropriations committees. Browne, of Allentown, is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Aument, of Lititz, chairs the Senate Education Committee.

    In addition, “two legislators shall be appointed by the President Pro Tempore and two legislators by the Speaker of the House. One legislator shall be appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate and one legislator by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. Also, the Secretary of Education shall be a member of the commission,” the two lawmakers wrote in “Dear Colleague” memo.

    How Pennsylvania pays for higher education, which includes the 14 state-owned universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and the four state-related universities (Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln universities) has remained one of the great policy challenges of the last decade.

    As PennLive reports, Browne and Aument test-drove their proposal during last month’s budget hearings, telling university leaders that some schools could get more money, while others could receive less under any new funding formula. So reaching an accord on the drivers of those numbers is key, he said, according to PennLive.

    Those factors could include “goals for higher education; the commonwealth’s higher education needs; affordability of higher education; graduation and retention rates; student debt; student financial aid, including programs operated by PHEAA; job placement and wages; appropriate level of state support to maintain operations and appropriate level of formula driven funding to incentivize success,” Browne and Aument wrote.

    Funding for the four state-related universities would remain at fiscal 2018-19 levels in the budget proposal that Gov. Tom Wolf presented to the General Assembly in early February. That means Penn State would receive $237.3 million in 2019-20 starting July 1, while appropriations for Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln would hold steady at $148.5 million, $155.1 million, and $14.9 million respectively.

    The 14-strong Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education — whose schools include Millersville, East Stroudsburg, and Kutztown universities — would see their state appropriation rise by 1.5 percent, from the current $465 million to $478 million. All told, the administration’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 would spend, if approved, a total of $1.8 billion on higher education.

    Under Browne and Aument’s plan, the new funding commission would have a year after its creation to return a report on findings and recommendations based on consultations with experts, public hearings, the review of best practices from other states, and other factors.

    The General Assembly would have to authorize the new funding formula. The commission would reconvene every five years to review progress, the two lawmakers wrote.

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.



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