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How Importent is Edukation?

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Jake Corman.jpgThe person I wouldn't want to be today is state Sen. Jake Corman.

Corman is a Republican and a powerful one.  He is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  He is also a fiscal conservative -- a let's-get-government-off-our-backs guy who will have a lot to say about the final shape of Gov. Corbett's proposed budget.

Normally, Corman would be the first to applaud Corbett's first budget.  It includes no tax increases; it cuts state spending by $866 million, it takes the axe to a lot of popular programs (including WAMS).

So why isn't Corman smiling?  Why was he up n the Senate floor yesterday hemming and hawing about the budget and making it a point to call it a "blueprint" and an "outline" and "a good first try" by the new governor?

Because Corman happens to have a large institution in his district that saw its state aid cut in half in Corbett's plan. You may have heard of it.

It's called Penn State.

In a way, there is little that is surprising in Corbett's first budget, which he released on Tuesday.  If you have a state government that spends three out of every four dollars on education and public welfare, you are going to have to cut education and public welfare in order to extract real savings.

And Corbett did just that.

Welfare's total budget actually went up, due mostly to the increase of the number of people eligible for Medicaid and welfare grants (darn that recession!), but Corbett did cut big chunks of money out of mental health and other services.

With education, the cuts were deeper and wider.  Corbett proposed decreasing total education spending next year by $1.4 billion -- about 12 percent. 

Most of that comes from a decrease in state's basic subsidy to local school districts (-$549 million), and a grant program to help district's pay for charter schools and programs such as full-day kindergarten (-$259 million).

But, on a percentage basis, Corbett took the biggest whacks at Pennsylvania's four state-related universities --Penn. Pitt, Temple and Lincoln (-$334 million) and the 14 state-owned university system (-$233 million). It amounts to a 50 percent reduction in state aid for these schools.

Why did Corbett target the universities?

He didn't say.  There was no reason given either in the governor's speech or in the state's massive budget document -- as to the why of such huge cuts.

My guess is that the governor's people may be believers in price elasticity.  All of these schools -- particularly the 14 state-owned universities -- charge less than private schools. Even if tuition is pumped up 25 percent they will still be cheaper than most private institutions.  So....bombs away!

Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

Pitt and Temple are in big cities (represented by Democrats).  The rest of the schools are in small towns scattered across the state: Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, Kutztown, Mansfield, Slippery Rock and State College. They often are the largest employers in town and economic engines that feed local businesses.  These areas also are represented by Republican legislators -- people like Jake Corman, who is going to be asked to explain if he favors a 50 percent cut in state aid to Penn State.

On a deeper level: What does it say about Pennsylvania's commitment to affordable secondary education?  The state is already way down on the list of support for public colleges.  These cuts will take it to the bottom 10.

A dubious distinction we should avoid.

 

-- Tom Ferrick 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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