I was lucky enough to have attended schools that weren’t in danger of closing, but financial problems were considered normal. When a dingy, rotted square of my high school’s ceiling collapsed, splintering onto the dusty marble floor, students pointed and laughed.
We regarded the lack of funds the way one would discuss bad weather: yes, it was terribly frustrating, but also somewhat natural and inevitable.
So when I realized my university was also facing obstacles in obtaining funding from the state, I wasn’t fazed at first. After all, I thought, government moves slowly.
But not this slowly.
In fact, it has never taken this long to pass a budget in Pennsylvania history.
Temple’s budget predicament is simple enough: the Commonwealth was supposed to endow Temple with $175 million for the 2015-16 school year. The budget was due on June 30, 2015—almost nine months ago.
If the budget doesn’t pass by June 30 of this year, Temple likely will not receive state funding at all. Chief Financial Officer Ken Kaiser told The Temple News last month that the university would have to consider essentially operating as a private institution if it couldn’t rely on state money.
“It would change what Temple is,” Kaiser said.
On March 2, administrators, along with Pennsylvania General Assembly members, attended the budget appropriation hearing in Harrisburg. The meeting, he said, wasn’t very productive.
“I don’t think they focused enough on the issues with us on what the impact is going to be if we don’t receive the funding for this year,” Kaiser said. “Or, for next year.”
At the hearing, President Theobald outlined the “Fly in 4” initiative—which promises to pay for students’ tuition if they must take classes past their expected graduation date.
Theobald also highlighted the more recently established Temple Option, which allows applicants to submit essays rather than SAT scores.
Initiatives like these help Temple achieve its mission as a public university: “to provide access to superior education for committed and capable students of all backgrounds.”
But the idea of privatization, or just figuring out how to operate without Temple’s usually allotted budget for one year, changes that.
“We would have to look at everything we do at Temple and, you know, do it differently,” Kaiser said. “What are the things that we’re providing for free because we get the state funding?”
Another side of the coin would be the rise in tuition, especially for in-state students, Theobald said in Harrisburg. Without any state funding, there would be no reason to subsidize tuition costs for students from Pennsylvania.
While an effort to pass the budget came close to fruition in January, House Democrats blocked the attempt. The conflict, Kaiser said, is heavily rooted in politicians’ reluctance to compromise.
“In the real world, you give a little here and you take a little there and so forth, but neither side is willing to do that here,” he said.
For now, the university has taken out a line of credit from PNC Bank as it waits warily for the June 30 deadline. While Kaiser said he expects the budget to pass in time, the situation still seems grim.
“Each day that goes by, I just shake my head a little bit more,” Kaiser said.
There came a time in my Philadelphia public high school career when the bad weather of budget cuts became too stormy to bear. That year, 2013, I joined thousands of students in an orchestrated walkout to the School District building, to fight for accessible, well-funded education. That sunny spring day, youthful bodies filled the streets and demanded their schools be salvaged; it became evident that students have a voice.
Kaiser did not suggest a walkout, but something simpler—that students contact state representatives and express their opinions.
“That is really probably the most effective thing that students, their families, friends can do really— letting [state legislature] know that there’s … people are really being affected by their inability to get a budget done,” Kaiser said.
While it’s sad that a missing education budget has become normal for many in PA, using our voices as students who care could lead to change and improvement.
Angela Gervasi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.