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GOP versions of college affordability and workforce shortage bills advance in Pa. Senate


Ian Karbal, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
April 30, 2024

The Senate Education committee advanced a package of bills Monday aimed at addressing higher education affordability and workforce shortages. 

The Republican-supported bills are, largely, a response to a proposal by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro that would increase funding to state colleges and decrease tuition for Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania ranks near last among U.S. states in higher education affordability and funding per student.

The bills passed with some bipartisan support, and a number of Democrats objecting.

Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), a lead sponsor of numerous bills in the package, urged the committee’s yes-vote.

“All these have a single targeted goal, and that is to grow this state, to afford more opportunities and financial assistance for our students to get into those critically needed fields, and also help them walk into a good, Pennsylvania, family-sustaining job with less debt,” Martin said. “I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”

The six-bill package would create a new grant program for both in-state and out-of-state students attending Pennsylvania schools to study for and ultimately enter high-demand industries such as teaching, health care and law enforcement. A separate merit scholarship would be created to attract high-performing out-of-state students. Students receiving either would be required to work in the state following graduation.

Other bills in the package would expand upon existing programs, like increasing funding available for foster kids enrolling in Pennsylvania schools and increase existing funds for students entering high-demand professions.

The only outspoken critic of the bill package was the committee’s minority chair, Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny).

A long time proponent of increasing affordability and access to higher education, Williams said she was “delighted that we have two competing plans for higher education.”

But, she added, she believes the bills were “voted on in haste without time for meaningful input from experts on the ground.”

Williams cited potential complications raised in a separate hearing Monday by a representative for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency  (PHEAA) as an example, and noted she had similar criticisms about the timetable of Shapiro’s proposal..

Two other committee Democrats, Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) and Timothy Kearney (D-Delaware) joined Williams in voting against the bills. Committee Democrat Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) joined them in voting against three of the six proposals.

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.