Penn State

Democrats slam Corbett on cuts to Penn State funding

The Penn State University Old Main building.
The Penn State University Old Main building. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

On the first day of Penn State’s spring semester, Pennsylvania Democrats assailed Republican Gov. Tom Corbett for the cuts the past few years to Penn State’s state funding.

Democratic committee chairman Jim Burn, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak and the president of Penn State’s College Democrats called upon the governor to work with their party to restore funding levels.

“I think that we’ve seen that higher ed, and even K-12 education, is not a priority for Tom Corbett,” said Nadia Lehtihet, the College Democrats president.

Burn said Corbett’s proposal in 2011 to halve Penn State’s funding was “draconian.” The legislature approved what amounted to about a 24 percent reduction from the previous year instead of the proposed 50 percent cut.

The Democrats’ message comes just weeks before the governor will unveil his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The amount of funding Penn State gets from the state will determine the tuition rates for the 2014-2015 school year.

Last year, the budget proposal was nowhere as controversial as that of 2011. Instead, Penn State administrators promised to keep tuition increases for this school year as low as possible in exchange for the same amount of funding the state gave last year, or $285 million.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Monday that the university has not received any word from the governor’s office regarding a similar agreement.

In the fall, the university sent its request for the 2014-2015 budget cycle — $299.7 million, a figure that is $14.7 million above what it got for this year.

A spokesman for the state Department of Education indicated there would be no such thing as an appropriation request. The governor’s spokesman deferred comment to the Education Department.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers invest more than $1.58 billion into higher education,” said Education spokesman Tim Eller. “The state must live within its means and not expect taxpayers to send more of their hard-earned money to Harrisburg.”

Lehtihet said her peers are feeling the pinch and more and more are taking multiple jobs to help pay the bills while they are in school.

Sestak’s comments came the first day he started teaching a policy class for Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law. He works from the Carlisle campus.

He said education funding should be considered mandatory and not discretionary.

The governor’s budget address will be Feb. 4.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson is scheduled to go before the state House and Senate for the annual appropriation hearings on Feb. 13.