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Senator Wayne D. Fontana
 

 

Funding Higher Education

Across Pennsylvania, high school seniors are starting to make decisions about their plans after graduation. Many of these students are considering attending some type of higher educational institution. However, due to the economic climate, the reality of a college degree may be out of reach for many high school seniors.

PASSHEPennsylvania has 257 public, private and quasi-public colleges and universities. Home to over 120,000 students, the state legislature allocates money every year to the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities, which include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester universities. Because of this allocation, these state-owned schools are able to present unique opportunities while offering the least expensive four-year degrees in the state. Four of Pennsylvania’s largest universities — University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, Temple University and Lincoln University — are considered state-related universities and also receive a state allocation.

In the first year of Gov. Tom Corbett’s term, education advancement as a whole came to a screeching halt with his drastic cutbacks in education funding. The governor’s proposed 2011-12 budget called for decreasing funding to the state-owned and state-related schools by 50 percent. However, after months of debating these cuts, the legislature restored some of the funding to these institutions. As a result, PASSHE schools saw an 18 percent reduction in funding and the state-related schools saw a 19 percent cut.

Although the cuts were not as severe as first threatened, most of these schools had to go to extremes to make up for this lost funding. The PASSHE schools hiked their tuition by 7.5 percent and the four state-related institutions raised its tuition by various amounts. Many institutions cut faculty as a cost saving mechanism while at the same time increasing class sizes.

Students in state-owned and state-related institutions were not the only victims of the final 2011-12 budget. Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges also saw a 10 percent reduction in the budget. As a result, the Community College of Allegheny County in September approved a rare mid-year tuition increase of 9.5 percent, which is the largest single jump in the school’s history.

Now, as the legislature debates the governor’s 2012-13 proposed budget, higher education institutions are once again facing cuts. The governor has proposed a 30 percent reduction (or $185 million) for the four state-related universities; a 20 percent cut (or $82.5 million) for the 14 PASSHE universities; and a 3.8 percent reduction (or $8 million) for the state’s community colleges.

PHEAA PHEAA PHEAA PHEAA Even the state’s premier student aid organization — the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) — will suffer under the governor’s budget proposal. At a time when affording higher education is getting further out of reach for many students and their families, the governor is cutting PHEAA funding by $19 million. PHEAA estimates that this decrease in funding would essentially amount to about $158 less available per individual for the assumed 205,000 grant recipients. To maintain the state grant level awarded during the 2011-12 school year as well as offset the anticipated tuition hikes, PHEAA would require $20 million in additional funding.

I am a firm believer in students furthering their education and there are many different avenues for individuals who want to explore their options. Furthermore, investing in education invests in our communities. Living in Pittsburgh, I see and understand how these colleges and universities are an economic driver, from training a student to be successful in the work place after graduation, to making advances in research and technology, to providing employment for teachers and other essential staff at these institutions. We need to continue to welcome these kinds of advances and foster this type of environment.

Although the governor must be held accountable for placing a priority on tax breaks for big corporations over funding our institutions of higher education, the state-funded universities must wisely adjust to the reduced funding with as little burden on students as possible. By reconsidering their own current situations and analyzing how they can decrease spending wherever possible, they can be more proactive about ensuring both a quality and affordable education. Colleges and universities receive state funds with the promise of passing it along through low tuition rates. However, these institutions placed the burden of their decreased funding onto the students and their families by increasing tuition rates.

In this current economic climate, everyone needs to be held accountable. If these schools continue to receive a state allocation, the General Assembly should have a role in how these schools are allowed to spend the tax payers’ money. The legislature, the governor, and colleges and universities across Pennsylvania all need to work together and form a consensus so that the dream of a college degree is not just reality for the wealthy.


Texting Ban Goes Into Effect

On Thursday, March 8, 2012, Pennsylvania will join 34 other states when a ban on texting while driving takes effect. Senate Bill 314 (SB 314), which I co sponsored and voted for, became Act 98 of 2011, will make texting while driving a primary offense which means police do not need another reason to stop a driver. A violation occurs if the driver sends, reads or writes a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. The act also forbids Web browsing while the vehicle is in motion, but allows for the use of smart phones for GPS. A “text-based communication” is considered a text message, electronic mail, or other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless device, including smart phones and blackberries. The new law does not ban talking on handheld phones. Offenders face a $50 fine and officers may not seize the cell phone or other device. No points will be issued if you receive a citation; however, the impact on an individual’s car insurance depends on the safe-driving policies for your carrier.

Did You Know…

Did You Know a 2010 report issued by the Pew Research Center says 49% of adults confirm they have been passengers in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone?


Partners For Public Education

Partners for Public Education Event

Last week I participated in a forum hosted by Partners for Public Education at South Fayette High School. The crowd of approximately 150 came together to hear from public school officials, administrators and students on the importance of a strong public education system throughout the Commonwealth. The mission of Partners for Public Education is to bring people together – parents, students, administrators, elected officials, community leaders – and speak with one voice to raise awareness of the issues facing public education.

Last year’s nearly $900 million in cuts to education funding had unfair consequences to students, especially those students in poorer school districts. With another round of cuts proposed in the governor’s budget this year, it’s important that students have “partners” to support and properly fund public education. Educating our students needs to be a priority in this Commonwealth but based on last year’s budget and this year’s proposed budget, it is clear this is not the case.

To learn more about Partners for Public Education and to register as a “partner,” please visit their website at www.partnersforpubliced.org.

Assessment Update

Town Hall Meetings

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Council will hold a series of town hall meetings in all 13 County Council districts to assist homeowners with the 2013 court-ordered reassessments. The town hall meetings will include a presentation that explains the reassessment process, how to file and prepare for informal reviews and formal appeals, and other options for reducing assessed values. The meetings will also include a question and answer period. County staff will be present to assist property owners with filing various forms and legal and real estate professionals will also be on-hand to provide free one-on-one advice and assistance.

There will be two town hall meetings this week:

March 7th, 7 – 9 p.m.
CCAC Boyce Lecture Hall
595 Beatty Road, Monroeville
March 8th, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Bethel Park High School Auditorium
309 Church Road, Bethel Park

The county will announce additional town hall meeting dates and locations as they are confirmed. The sessions are free and open to all and registration is not required. Property owners from any community are welcome to attend town hall meetings throughout the county.

Reassessment Notice Delay

Reassessment notices to property owners in suburban neighborhoods in the north and west of Allegheny County were to be mailed on March 2nd but a technical problem has delayed the mailing until March 7th. Property owners in the following neighborhoods should receive their reassessments shortly after the March 7th mailing and will have until March 16th to request an informal review. To schedule an informal review, you can call 412-350-4600 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. or go to the County's website:

Bellevue Borough
Coraopolis Borough
Ingram Borough
Kennedy Township
McKees Rocks Borough
Neville Township
Borough of Pennsbury Village
Robinson Township
Stowe Township
Thornburg Borough

 

For more information on assessments please visit the County's Property Assessment Information Page. This page can be accessed by visiting www.alleghenycounty.us and clicking on the Property Assessment Information link. You can download formal appeal forms, view court-ordered reassessment frequently asked questions, get information on both 2012 base year and 2013 court-ordered reassessment values, and submit corrections to property characteristics.

Summer Environmental Careers Camp for Students

ECO CampStudents in grades 10 – 12 who are interested in pursuing environmental careers are invited to apply for a spot in the Exploring Careers Outdoors Camp. The six-day camp begins Sunday, July 8th and is organized by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). The camp, in its 10th year, will be held at Kirby Episcopal House and Chapel in Luzerne County, near Nescopeck State Park.

The camp will introduce 20-25 students to conservation and environmental careers by exposing them to a wide range of career experiences including: water quality assessments; geology field studies; and overnight camping experiences. Daily activities will offer students a hands-on, team-building learning experience in an outdoor setting. Students will also have the opportunity to meet conservation professionals and learn about career opportunities.

The Exploring Careers Outdoors Camp is free but applications must be submitted by April 1st. For more details and to obtain an application, please visit DCNR's website, email ECO_Camp@pa.gov or call 724-865-7857.

Beechview CLUB Expands Online Community

Community Leaders United for Beechview (CLUB) is launching a new E-News blast later this month. If you are interested in receiving updates on happenings with CLUB and throughout Beechview, you can sign up here to receive emails. The CLUB was organized to encourage communication and collaboration among organizations and to inspire community involvement. In all, 18 organizations in the neighborhood have made the commitment to CLUB.

Special Event at Dormont Hollywood Theater

Dormont Hollywood TheaterFlorence Biros, author of the book “Dog Jack” will be signing autographs at a special screening of “Dog Jack” at the Hollywood Theater on March 10th. “Dog Jack,” narrated by Academy award winner Louis Gossett, Jr. will have two screenings at the Hollywood Theater, March 9th at 4 p.m. and March 10th at 7 p.m. Several of the battle scenes were filmed in Darlington, PA and the ballroom scenes were filmed at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. “Dog Jack” is an inspirational and historical film based on the true adventures of the dog that joined the Union Army during the Civil War. For more information on this special event please visit the Friends of the Hollywood Theater website.

Hollywood Theater's March Schedule is now available!

High School Sports Update

Congratulations to the Seton-LaSalle girls’ basketball team on winning the WPIAL Class AA Championship! Seton-LaSalle defeated a resilient Bishop Canevin team in the championship game to improve to 25-0 on the season. Both teams advance to the PIAA Girls Tournament that begins later this week. The following girls and boys teams have advanced to the PIAA Tournament in their respective classifications: Girls – Baldwin (Class AAAA), Chartiers Valley (AAA), Seton-LaSalle (AA), Bishop Canevin (AA), Keystone Oaks (AA); Boys – Montour (AAA), Sto Rox (AA), and Cornell (A). Best of luck to all the teams in the state playoffs!

Neighbors in the Stirp Pittsburgh Public Market Fontana Fact

Pittsburgh’s last market house was demolished in 1965. In 2003,
Neighbors in the Strip began plans to create an indoor, year-round
public market located in the Strip District. Today, Pittsburgh Public Market, located at Smallman and 17th Street offers dozens of outstanding year-round and seasonal merchants.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 
Partners for Public Education Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE)