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John Marsh, author of Class Dismissed, in Inside Higher Ed

Robbing Peter

June 21, 2011

By John Marsh, author of the forthcoming Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality

In March, the new governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, announced a 2011-12 budget that, when combined with the loss of federal stimulus money, would reduce funding to public schools by $1.2 billion dollars, and funding to higher education by $649 million. My own institution, Pennsylvania State University, stood to lose $169 million, or about 51 percent of its state appropriation. As our president, Graham Spanier, pointed out, such cuts “would be the largest percentage reduction to public higher education in this nation’s history.”

Other states, of course, have faced similar budget shortfalls and have also responded with cuts to education, especially higher education. What happened next in Pennsylvania, though, dramatizes the new and distressing choices that states will have to face, and institutions of higher education have to live with, so long as the economy drifts along, state finances remain a sea of red ink, and tax increases are off the table.

In Pennsylvania, deciding on a budget is more like a game of bridge than a game of solitaire. The governor merely makes the opening bid. Ultimately, the legislature gets to review and pass the budget, which then goes to the governor for approval. So when leaders of the state and state-related institutions of higher education learned of the governor’s proposed cuts, they descended upon the state capital to plead their case to legislators. And it worked. Sort of.

In early May, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, offered a revised budget. The good news? The House Republicans restored $243 million of the $1.2 billion proposed cuts to public schools, and $370 million of the $649 million that higher education stood to lose under the governor’s budget. Instead of losing 51 percent of its state appropriation, for example, Penn State would lose 21 percent, which is still bad, but not historically bad. The bad news was that in order to keep overall spending in line with the number the governor proposed, House Republicans made cuts elsewhere in the budget, mostly to public welfare programs….

Read the entire article in Inside Higher Ed

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