Thursday, February 05, 2009

PA cuts funding for Governor's Schools

This article discusses how Governor Rendell announced withdrawal of funding to Pennsylvania's eight Governor's Schools of Excellence, which are summer programs for rising seniors on university campuses that allow an intensive experience the sciences, international studies, health care, the arts, information technology, health care, agricultural sciences, or entrepreneurship. Due to the necessity of budget cuts governor has chosen to direct funding to human services rather than such educational ventures. By cutting the Governor's Schools the state will save $3.2 million a year that would have gone to tuition, room, and board for these students*.

A 2003 alumna of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences (PGSS), I am sad to see this happen. During the 12 weeks I spent at PGSS I had more fun per day than I have in any other time of my life: I had more stimulating conversation, socialized more, laughed more, and slept less than I ever had before and have since. Because there were so many interesting things to learn during the day and so much interesting conversation at night, I developed the skill to fall asleep anywhere and appreciation for leading balanced life. Governor's School was totally wild: after spending the evening doing organic chemistry or something else fun, we would hang out in the lounge all night in our single-sex hallways. Once we sent a bucket with a note saying "hi" down to the boys' lounge via the window. Once I had to have an early curfew because I showed up 2 minutes late to a biology tutorial. ;) In all seriousness, however, when I think about the most talented and fun group of people I know, I still think back to the govies of '03. My experience at PGSS shaped my goals in college and set the stage for the rest of my academic career.

A fellow govie reminded me the other day I have been delinquent in sending mail to Governor Rendell and alerting the media about this tragedy, but the truth is I don't know that cutting these funds is particularly unfair. I am not taking for granted the fact that the state paid for me to have a summer of mind-bending exposure to relativity theory and medical ethics, and maybe I was somewhat spoiled because I grew up across the street from Carnegie Mellon University and did programs there every summer, but I do think I am being fair when I say that the kids who went to governor's school are not the kids who need funding the most badly in Pennsylvania. These are all bright kids who are definitely going to college, and definitely going to good schools. The sort of intellectual stimulation that the governor's schools seem to provide is similar to the sort of stimulation a good university should provide. If the state must cut funds in education somewhere, I would prefer they cut funds here rather than for early education, after-school care for underprivileged children, or education in middle school sciences, where funding seems lacking and where they could potentially make a bigger differences in the lives of many Pennsylvania children.

Especially in the context of the recession, I do not know that the Governor's Schools are being particularly wronged. Though $3.2 million is nothing compared to state infrastructure costs, I expect that there are programs of equivalent value (to the state--not to me, of course!) that are getting cut. I do not think it is the case that Governor Rendell is devaluing education: he is boosting state funds for public education by $300 million and enstating the Tuition Relief Act, which provides tuition assistance for families that make less than $100,000 a year. I am glad to see that the state is paying attention to these sorts of things financially.

That said, it would be a tragedy to see the Governor's Schools die. I had some questions I hoped someone could answer:
  • Why was the funding all-or-nothing? What were the debates on this topic like? Why can't the state subsidize a mostly private program of this nature?
  • Could some of the schools be privately funded or require tuition (with financial assistance)? In high school I also attended Andrew's Leap, which had been privately funded until the year before I went. Since 2001 people have had to pay a few thousand in tuition to attend for the summer, but the program still seems to be going strong.
  • How much money would we need to raise from private donors to keep at least PGSS going? Would someone run it?

Note: Despite my personal conflicts on this subject I really do appreciate the other alumni who did write letters to the program directors, the governor, and the media about the importance of the governor's schools.

* I learned on the PA budget website that $537 million for Rebuild PA projects that includes $200 million for bridge repairs, $294.5 million for water, sewer, flood control and dam projectsm, $42.5 million for rail and aviation improvement projects, and $1.9 billion in base Motor License Funds for bridge and highway repairs.


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In the event that the state must cut funds in educationn some place, I would incline toward they cut funds here instead of for early training, after-school watch over underprivileged kids, or training in center school sciences.

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