Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lux et Veritas

In 1849, the Presbyterian affiliated College of California was merged with California A&M to form UC Berkeley. Echoing a New England Puritan's emphasis on education, founders saw this new public institution as the essential bedrock of a strong economy and democracy. In the 156 years that followed, California lavishly supported the UC system and its students; helping propel the state's tech-based economy, and doubtlessly influencing its referendum-intensive politics. California is now the 7th largest economy in the world, and the most dynamic state in the Union.

Pennsylvania's educational history is likewise rich and storied: boasting 16% of the Nation's Tier I Colleges, 4 top ranked Graduate Institutions and an Ivy League University. Mostly private, these schools represent billions in resources to the state free of charge. This 200+ year old system was founded on the same educational philosophy as the UC system: that all should be provided with an education. But Rush, Franklin and Carnegie's vision of an over-educated Pennsylvania has fallen by the wayside. Only state-affiliated Pitt and PSU provide affordable high-quality education targeted to Pennsylvanians. Private institutions, Presbyterian or otherwise, draw their students from afield, targeting those who can afford a $35k/yr. bill. Few remain once classes end, making it hard to sustain home-grown talent, and benefit from the brain-power bursting forth from our schools.

Fast Eddie's budget seeks in small ways to rectify this. Providing modest increases in all state-funded education from K-PhD, he makes a very small step towards providing better educational opportunities to every citizen of Pennsylvania through our broken public school system. The Jonas Salk Legacy Fund, $500M of leverage money for cash-poor start-ups bursting out of CMU, UPMC and Penn, might keep the best students from our institutions in Pennsylvania and improve our institutions' standings. We're never going to be as cheap as North Carolina, but the educational and cultural infrastructure exists to compete with California. We have to step up and invest like they did, or accept our position as a high-cost, anti-business, rust-belt state.

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