March 13, 2017
Budget Hearings with Secretary of Education & Budget Secretary
The Senate and House Appropriation Committees held hearings last week with Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and Budget Secretary Randy Albright.
Education Secretary in House & Senate Appropriation Committees
In the Senate, most of the questions focused on the State System of Higher Education and declining enrollments. Senator John Eichelberger (R-Blair), chairman of the Education Committee, spoke mainly about workforce development, asking why career and technical education and community colleges are both level-funded in the Governor Wolf’s proposed budget. Rivera noted that both are “pathways to success” and stated that by 2025, “60% of jobs will require an industry certificate, two or four year degree.” Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) argued that a direct relationship exists between state support for PASSHE and falling enrollment at 12 of the 14 state universities. State funding for these institutions is at the 1999 level, according to Hughes.
The House committee spent an entire morning on higher education. Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) immediately focused on the Institutional Assistance Grants (IAG) cut. This proposal would impact low- and middle-income students attending private higher education institutions, he said. In responding, Secretary Rivera noted that 70% of Pa. high school graduates attending college go to a state-supported institution. He also argued that it was not a 50% cut because colleges and universities are expected to match the cut. Rep. Michael Peifer (R-Pike), the new chairman of the PHEAA board, asked about how colleges should meet the declining demographics. Rivera responded that they would need to “customize” their curriculum. Several questions focused on the new State System of Higher Education contract and costs to the Commonwealth.
Budget Secretary in House & Senate Appropriation Committees
Rep. Peifer closely questioned the Budget Secretary about the $12.9 million cut to the IAGs.
He expressed the concern of private college and university leaders who told him they believe that a cut of half of that program's funding may severely harm their ability to accept need-based students, and inquired how the budget will replace the dollars in question.
"Many of the things we recommend in the budgets may be things we wish we didn't have to do," Secretary Albright said. "The IAG program is one we want to maintain. The simple answer is we want to take that program and the roughly $25.8 million that we're currently providing and make it a matching grant program." Rep. Peifer responded, "Really, they're probably matching that money now already because they're performing some kind of match through a scholarship program. I don't understand how that matching program would work." Secretary Albright said he "couldn't be more transparent than that." To receive the state funds, he explained, the institutions will simply have to provide a matching dollar of their own for each dollar they receive from the state. Rep. Peifer queried if any corporations are available to help provide those matching dollars, or if the colleges will "just have to dig deeper." Rep. Albright replied, "We aren't prescriptive about how the private institution will go out and find that matching aid. All we're saying is that they need to be partners with us." Rep. Peifer opined that many "overachieving" children in his areas may be restricted in their access to "great schools" by this cut. He said he respects that but does not necessarily agree with the idea.
In the Senate, when questioned by Senator Wayne Langerholc (R-Cambria), Secretary Albright also noted the difficult budget environment and provided a similar discussion of the need for the college to match the funding as he provided in the House.
Did you know?
The Administration has used the “matching” argument in the hearings to obscure the basic fact that the cut will be absorbed by private institutions. We need to dispel that confusion in conversation with state legislators. To find your state legislator, go to Legislator Locator by Zip Code