Temple University in Philadelphia (Image via Temple University)
[This article was updated at 2:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 27, 2023, to include a comment from a University of Pittsburgh spokesperson.]
Pennsylvania House Republican leaders said Monday that their caucus withheld support for three state-related universities in votes on budget bills because the schools refused to guarantee they would not increase tuition.
The votes, which required support from two-thirds of the 203-member chamber, mean that $620 million in funding for Temple and Penn State universities and the University of Pittsburgh will be in limbo as the General Assembly works toward passing a budget by Friday’s deadline.
“They actually promised during the appropriations hearings that they would in fact raise tuition regardless of the amount of money they got. That’s a very big issue. And I don’t think it’s one that’s fair to students or families,” House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said.
A University of Pittsburgh spokesperson noted Cutler’s statement was inaccurate. In a March 21 House Appropriations Committee hearing, each of the four state-related university heads said they could not commit to freezing tuition if they received a proposed 7% increase in funding.
“For Pitt’s side, that’s because our Board of Trustees makes that decision, and Chancellor [Patrick Gallagher] can’t promise anything on their behalf,” spokesman Jared Stonesifer said.
A bill to provide $19 million in funding for Lincoln University, a historically black university in Chester County, passed with a 195-8 vote.
Cutler and York County Rep. Seth Grove, the ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations committee, immediately made motions to reconsider the three failed bills, which included standalone appropriations for Temple and Pitt and an omnibus bill that included funding for all four of the universities.
Funding for the state-related universities – land grant schools over which the state has minimal oversight – has traditionally been a lever of power for the minority party during budget negotiations because they require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
Cutler said Monday that Republican lawmakers have not been invited to negotiate over the funding with the chamber’s Democratic majority, and said the GOP wants to see reform in the higher education system akin to that undertaken by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The 10 state-owned universities have committed to holding tuition level for the fifth year in a row and have merged several campuses to improve efficiency.
The votes came Monday evening after the House extended a recess several times until 8 p.m. Cutler said House Democrats used “parliamentary gimmicks” to avoid discussion of the Republicans’ reform proposals on the floor.
“But we were ready to have those discussions,” Cutler said. “And we’re still waiting for our first invitation to do so.”
A spokesperson for House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said McClinton and other Democratic leaders were unavailable to comment Monday night.
Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, tweeted that the vote against funding for the universities would ensure tuition increases of at least $5,000.
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