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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
Senate Council holds final meeting of semester, recaps recent events
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • May 14, 2024
Column | A thank you to student journalists
By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
Senate Council holds final meeting of semester, recaps recent events
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • May 14, 2024
Column | A thank you to student journalists
By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

‘Our futures are on the line’: Elected officials, students call for Pitt funding bill to pass

Members+of+the+Pennsylvania+House+of+Representatives+attend+a+session+at+the+State+Capitol+in+Harrisburg%2C+Pa.%2C+on+Thursday%2C+June+29%2C+2023.
AP Photo | Matt Rourke
Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives attend a session at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday, June 29, 2023.

During a press conference in Schenley Plaza Thursday morning, elected officials and students urged House Republicans to support a bill that would provide funding for state-related universities in Pennsylvania.

HB 612, a bill that provides in-state students at Pitt with $16,000 in tuition reduction, according to the University, has failed to pass through the House multiple times. Democrats hold a slim 102-101 majority in the House, but HB 612 requires a two-thirds vote of approval to pass to the Senate.

State Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny), a Pitt Law alumnus, shamed her Republican colleagues for not passing the state-related university appropriations bill, calling it “a disgrace to the entire legislative process.”

“Only now that Republicans are in the House minority have their Republican leaders cooked up excuses to hold this funding hostage, excuses that didn’t stop these exact same Republicans from voting for this funding just last year,” Kinkead said. “They are using Pennsylvania college students, students that already graduate with some of the highest debt in the nation, as pawns in an attempt to advance a culture war that many of their own constituents reject.”

Kinkead references Republican-held concerns about Pitt’s fetal tissue research, which was determined by an independent review to be compliant with state and federal regulations, and disputes over Penn State’s Gender Health Clinic at its Children’s Hospital.

Olivia Pinocci-Wrightsman, a sophomore political science major, talked about the impact in-state tuition has on their lives and the lives of other Pennsylvania residents.

“Without the opportunity of an affordable education, I would have never had the chance to fall in love with this campus, make some of the most formidable friendships of my life, or stand in front of you all today,” Pinocci-Wrightsman said. “For many of us, our futures are on the line.”

Sam Podnar, a sophomore political science major, said her choice to study at Pitt was “100% a financial decision.”

“I hate that I am standing up here asking for something that should be common sense and bipartisan,” Podnar said. “And I really don’t ever want to be up here again — I am quite literally missing class for this. But I wouldn’t have had to do that if we had our funding when we were supposed to. And just know that me standing up here and asking is the best case scenario, because if this sort of thing keeps happening, we as PA residents and PA students won’t be up here again asking. We’ll just leave, because we can’t afford to better ourselves in our home state, and that’s a shame.”

Erika Strassburger, city councilperson representing District 8, called Pitt and other state-related universities “vital institutions of our city and our Commonwealth.”

“I find it unacceptable that far and away legislators are holding Pitt … and the communities that surround them hostage in a cheap, shortsighted attempt to score political points,” Strassburger said. “If these politicians were serious about growing the economy like they claim to be, they would never for a second consider putting so many people’s livelihoods in limbo.” 

State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), a Pitt Board of Trustees member, attributed the failure to pass funding for state-related universities last July to House Republicans.

“I can tell you as Senate Democratic Leader, [me] and my colleagues are 100% supportive of what needs to be done to get the legislation through, and I can confidently tell you that we will provide the two-thirds votes necessary to get it through the Senate,” Costa said. “The only group holding this process up are House Republicans — they need to come back to Harrisburg this week, they need to do the job they’re elected to do and get this legislation over the finish line so we can let our students and our families understand what they’ll be dealing with going forward.”

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) emphasized the efforts students undergo to achieve a higher education.

“Our Pitt students have done the work,” Frankel said. “They studied, they sacrificed, they saved money and took out loans. They pulled out all the stops so they could get their education. Just like Penn State students, Temple students and Lincoln students, they believed us when we told them that this work and investment will make their futures brighter. It will allow them to join a powerful legacy of Pennsylvanians making an impact and changing our world. Now, Republican leaders hold all those hopes and dreams in their hands.”

Frankel also admonished House Republicans for using culture war issues to “wage a proxy war with a battle with no winners.”

“If my Republican colleagues wanna fight about abortion, we can talk about that,” Frankel said. “If they wanna talk about health care for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians, I will debate that. But leave Pitt students out of it. This is a dangerous game that Republicans are playing, and with lasting consequences, but they can end it any time they choose, and get out of the way so their young people can make us proud.” 

When asked if there is a date this legislation needs to be passed by, Costa said “not really.”

“As I mentioned, the University of Pittsburgh has addressed the student discount internally in the hopes that they’ll be able to be reimbursed for that,” Costa said. “As we go into next year, if we get into next year’s budget next June 30th and we don’t have a solution in place, then I think that’s exactly when the students will start to feel the impact of a $16,000 increase in their tuitions, and the families would have to bear that cost, that’s the concern.”

The House is expected to reconvene on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

About the Contributor
Spencer Levering, Senior Staff Writer