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Community college funding plan passes Pa. Senate

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A bill that would allow Harrisburg Area Community College and its supporting school districts more flexibility in negotiating funding arrangements has passed the state Senate 46-0.

Sen. Pat Vance is the sponsor of Senate Bill 874, which according to a memo is similar to one that she cosponsored in 2012. It would apply only to community colleges that:

1. are sponsored by one or more school districts,

2. have an enrollment head count in excess of 20,000, and

3. have more than four campuses that are approved by both the Department of Education and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Currently, Harrisburg Area Community College is the only institution that would be affected.

"As a result of the negotiations that took place in 2013, HACC has a four-year agreement with the college's 22 sponsoring school districts that defines the financial support they will provide to the college's operating budget. As part of the agreement, local school districts will reduce their support by $4 million," said HACC President John J. "Ski" Sygielski.

"Senate Bill 874 would formalize in law the process that HACC and the local school districts undertook to negotiate a local sponsorship agreement. In this case, the law is catching up to reality. The reduced levels of support are the unfortunate result of a constrained fiscal environment at the local and state levels. It is the college's hope that a plan to adequately fund higher education is implemented in the future," Sygielski said.

Under current law, local sponsors of a community college provide the community college with funding at least equal to the community college's annual operating costs, less student tuition and the Commonwealth's appropriation. In addition, the local sponsors must provide one-half of the community college's annual capital expenses.

"While many school districts recognize the benefit community college sponsorship offers families in their communities, providing the required funding at the same time they are stretching their budgets and eliminating programs has become increasingly difficult," Vance's memo said. The bill would alleviate that by allowing the sponsorship amounts to be negotiated by the governing body of the local sponsor and the community college.

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