On April 7, Josh Maxwell, a candidate in the democratic 74th House District primary, published an oped on the issues affecting higher public education in Pennsylvania and mentioned nothing, not a single word, about State Senator Andy Dinniman’s PASSHE secession legislation, formally known as Senate Bill 1275. Back in February, State Senator Andy Dinniman endorsed Josh Maxwell for the district, and Maxwell has been pushed to make a statement on 1275.
Those against Senate Bill 1275 include Rob McCord who said:
I worry about [Senate Bill 1275] because I think you’ll get well positioned schools opting out, like West Chester, in a way that will hurt the average middle middle class family in Pennsylvania.
“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.”
Have all come out against this legislation, and so have a number of democratic leadership, senate and house candidates. One would think that after being asked by his challenger and education advocates, Maxwell would address the PASSHE issue in one of his recent opeds on higher education? Nope.
He starts out with a strong statement on what plagues higher education in Pennsylvania:
Over the last few years, higher education has become one of the most controversial issues facing our state. When Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his first budget in 2011, it included roughly $2 billion in cuts to education, including steep cuts to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Colleges and Universities throughout the Commonwealth have raised tuition to all-time highs, and on top of that they had to make tough budgetary decisions that resulted in larger class sizes and the end of many popular programs on those campuses.
Suddenly, the goal of providing an affordable path to a college degree has began to slip out of reach for many in our Commonwealth. But restoring these crippling cuts to the state system is only the first step in our mission to giving students every possible opportunity to succeed. We need to inject bold, new ideas into the debate on higher education here in Pennsylvania, and one such idea would go a long way towards the dream of a quality college education for all.
Then Maxwell goes on to mention more of Governor Corbett’s education cuts and student debt, and then he mentions the legislation that he would support. Instead of using the opportunity to speak out against Andy Dinniman’s and Tommy Tomlinson’s secession legislation, Maxwell gives credit to State Representative Brendan Boyle’s legislation that would give scholarship’s to students with 3.0 GPA’s.
Here in Pennsylvania, legislation has already been introduced that would create a near-identical program called the REACH scholarship (Reliable Educational Assistance for College Hopefuls). With a 3.0 GPA and a 90 percent attendance record, students would receive a full tuition scholarship to one of the 14 state schools. Additionally, recipients of the scholarship would have to agree to remain as Pennsylvania residents for 4 years, helping to combat “brain drain,” which occurs when our most talented college graduates leave the state to take jobs elsewhere after earning their education here.
This is exactly the kind of action we need to be taking to improve the lives of the people who need it most in our Commonwealth. Not only would the scholarship provide a path to a college education to those who cannot afford it, it would also serve as a incentive for students to perform well in high school. Surely there are students across Pennsylvania who, since they know they can’t afford college, don’t have the same motivation to perform that they might have if the prospect of a full tuition scholarship was put in front of them. And the statistics from the HOPE scholarship in Georgia show just that: SAT scores improved, attendance rates went up 50%, and, perhaps most importantly, more students remained in their home state after graduating.
Currently before the House Education Committee as HB 182, the bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. Brendan Boyle. It unanimously passed out of committee in a previous legislative session. I urge the committee to take up debate on the bill once more and move it to the full House floor for a vote. Giving more students more opportunities should be what we are about in Pennsylvania, and there are young people all across our state that deserve the chance to go to college. Let’s give them that chance.
Because that’ll do it! When asked about the structural and institutional problems facing the future of public higher education in Pennsylvania and when being asked repeatedly by advocates and primary opponents, talking about giving scholarships to students to 3.0 students will do it. Boyle’s legislation is a good heated bill that is easy to support, but when asked about the structural transformations a supporter of yours is advocating for, it isn’t that great of a bill to be talking about.