Indeterminate answers to reporters’ questions are not new to the Pennsylvania governor’s race, or even politics in general, but the PASSHE secession question seems to have hit a nerve. Only two of the current four candidates for governor have responded to Raging Chicken Press’s Sean Kitchen about the issue, and of those two, only one has definitively said he was universally against it.
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and Former DEP Secretary McGinty have not released statements to the Raging Chicken Press, who first reached out almost two weeks ago. I am currently reaching out to the two candidates for comment, but hopefully our readers can help create political pressure for a clear answer and point by point plan from all of the candidates. Even if a candidate is against this legislation, they need to be prepared with a plan to repeal it, if it is passed. That is not something that can be accomplished from a block quote from a campaign spokesperson.
Mark Nevin of the McCord campaign sent this statement to the Raging Chicken Press:
“Rob is against the PASSHE secession legislation as these schools offer the most affordable form of four-year, public higher education. If they were to secede from the system and set their own tuition rates, it could potentially exacerbate the already enormous challenge of keeping tuition affordable.”
Jeffrey Sheridan of the Tom Wolf campaign said this:
“Tom Wolf knows many of the state-owned colleges and universities are frustrated by the State’s continual underfunding of the system and the lack of local autonomy. This combination hampers the ability of college presidents to make decisions that are in the best interest of students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community. While Tom does not believe that West Chester University or any of the state-owned schools should leave the current system, he does believe that serious changes need to be made so that these colleges and universities are able to provide a world-class education. As governor, Tom will increase state funding, make long-term funding projections so that schools can plan and budget responsibly, and explore mechanisms for granting more local control.”
As most of our readers probably already know, there is a piece of legislation (SB 1275) being considered that would allow West Chester University to secede from the 14-university PASSHE system. It is being championed in the state senate by Senator Tomlinson and Senator Dinniman (whose district includes West Chester University’s campus). They claim that the rising costs and decreasing revenue of some of the other member universities in PASSHE have been dragging down WCU, validating their right to leave. The senators forget that our public university system is considered a public good that all students deserve to have, whether they live in Southeastern Pennsylvania or Erie or Altoona. The real issue at hand has been the drastic budget cuts to higher education during Governor Corbett’s term, not the superiority or inferiority of specific universities within the system. This dog-eat-dog approach is a tactic used by many politicians in times of crisis to promote their own personal agenda, and it wouldn’t be the first time Senator Dinniman has tried to privatize public education in Pennsylvania.
Despite the expensive efforts by Bravo Group, a PR firm that has strong ties to the education privatization movement in Philadelphia, paid for by the West Chester University Foundation, most students and faculty are not fooled. There is no guarantee in the current legislation that tuition prices will not go up, even though that’s a main sticking point they use for the need of the legislation in the first place. The secession of WCU from the PASSHE system also would make it more complicated to transfer to a PASSHE school from WCU or vice versa; as it stands, PASSHE schools coordinate in their course selection to simplify the transfer process.
A Senate Education Committee hearing is scheduled for April 8th, in which this issue will be discussed. I will be in Harrisburg to report on every detail. Tune in, and follow @keystonepol and @ckennedy124 for updates on this and other important stories.