GOP versions of college affordability and workforce shortages go to Pennsylvania Senate

On Monday, the Senate Education Committee advanced a package of bills aimed at addressing higher education affordability and workforce shortages.

The Republican-backed bills are largely a response to Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposal to raise funding for state colleges and lower tuition for Pennsylvanians.

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

The bills passed with some bipartisan support and opposition from many Democrats.

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

“All of this has one goal in mind, and that is to grow this state, to provide our students with more opportunities and financial aid to get into these critically needed fields, and to help them find good, family-sustaining jobs in Pennsylvania with less debt,” he said Martin. “I think it’s a win-win.”

Bye. Senate Republicans support an alternative to Shapiro’s college funding proposal

The six-bill package would create a novel scholarship program for in-state and out-of-state students attending Pennsylvania schools who could study in high-demand industries such as teaching, health care and law enforcement and ultimately pursue careers in industries with high demand. A separate merit scholarship would be created to attract outstanding out-of-state students. Students receiving either will be required to work in that state upon graduation.

Other bills in the package would expand existing programs, such as increasing funds available for foster care children enrolling in Pennsylvania schools and increasing existing funding for students entering high-demand careers.

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

Williams, a longtime advocate of increasing affordability and access to higher education, said she was “delighted that we have two competing plans for higher education.”

However, she added that she believed the bills “were voted on in a hurry, without time for significant input from experts on the ground.”

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

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

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