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State-related university funding on ice in Pennsylvania

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(The Center Square) — Funding for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities has been stymied in the House again, where Republicans balk at the substantial pot of money and Democrats blame them for a deadlock.

The fight over $640 million, roughly a 7% increase, in support for the four schools — Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, and Lincoln University — is a flashback to the last legislative session where funding bills stalled before their passage.

When a standalone bill for Lincoln passed, but those for Pitt and Temple failed, Democrats combined funding for the four schools into one proposal – House Bill 612 – which failed last week.

House Republicans focused on the disparity between funding for the private schools compared to how much goes to the public university system.

“Give it out to all students; any PA student going to a PA school,” Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, said during the debate on the House floor. “They get almost $700 million … that’s more than all of our state-owned schools combined.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal includes a $19 million increase for Penn State, $16 million for Lincoln, $11 million for Temple, and $11 million for Pitt, compared to $11 million for all Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education colleges.

Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Greensburg, called the unequal investment “madness.”

“There is a better path,” Nelson said. “This chamber has a responsibility to all young people that, if they’re gonna go (to college), they should be equally invested in. Surely this chamber is not allowed to blindly fund our richest schools at the expense of our poorest students.”

The state-related universities refused to commit to freezing tuition, which Republicans have also criticized. University officials argue that state funding offsets tuition costs for Pennsylvania students.

“From keeping tuition costs lower for in-state students, to serving as a repository of knowledge and research-based problem-solving for the state’s agriculture industry, to driving economic development and preparing the state’s next generation of entrepreneurs, workers and leaders, the commonwealth’s investment in Penn State impacts the lives of all Pennsylvanians,” Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi said after Shapiro’s budget announcement in March.

Beyond budget battles, Republicans have shown an interest in expanding financial information the schools must reveal to the public. Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, proposed House Bill 1556 to require personnel salary information, similar to Senate Bill 488 of last session, which passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

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