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by Anthony Hennen

 

A major change in public records requirements for some of Pennsylvania’s best-known universities is working through the General Assembly.

Yet, while expansive, it would leave the public with less information about higher education than is available in other states.

Senate Bill 488 would require state-related universities (University of Pittsburgh and Temple, Penn State, and Lincoln universities) to disclose salary, budget, and contract information in a user-friendly online database.

Donor privacy would be unaffected and remain confidential.

The bill passed first consideration in the Senate State Government Committee on Tuesday. If it’s signed into law, it would align Pennsylvania’s transparency rules with the majority of other states.

“It is important to note that Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the nation that explicitly exempts such universities from open records provisions – Alaska and Delaware the other two,” Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg, wrote in a legislative memo. “For most of the nation, state-funded universities’ records are presumed open or have been judicially confirmed as open.”

In the past, the lack of open records and major exemptions for state-related universities had been a significant issue. The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit media organization, argued that a stronger open records law would have brought Penn State’s sex abuse scandal to light sooner.

The bill will require state-related universities to provide the highest 200 salaries of employees, expanded from the top 25 salaries they must now report on the IRS Form 990. However, those salaries can be “presented in salary ranges comprised of bands no more than $75,000,” meaning that exact salaries will not be required.

Institutions must also provide revenue and expenditure budgets, financial information on a project related to a line-item appropriation from the General Fund, information on auxiliary enterprises (such as campus housing, dining services, and hotels) that use tuition or state funds, and audited financial statements.

Median and mean salary information (rather than individual salaries) will also be required, as will non-salary compensation. The universities will also need to submit a report on their direct funding received from the state government and make meeting minutes from board of trustees’ meetings publicly available, along with information on contracts of at least $10,000.

“There is plenty of room for improvement in the level of transparency and accountability we can expect from these institutions,” Mastriano said. “It is important to note that this legislation was devised in conjunction with these universities and the universities support passage of this legislation.”

While the bill would be a major expansion of transparency and public oversight of these universities that receive hundreds of millions in taxpayer funding annually, Pennsylvania will still lag behind other states in transparency.

The University of North Carolina system, for example, has an online database where the public can find salary information on every employee. While the database does not provide information on benefits and other relevant information, it reveals more than the mean and median salary information that SB488 would require.

The bill isn’t the only one focused on changing the status quo at state-related universities. HB2619, as The Center Square previously reported, would apply performance-based funding to the four institutions, tying 3% to 10% of state funding to outcomes such as graduation rates and post-graduation salaries.

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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
Photo “University of Pittsburgh” by University of Pittsburgh.

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Tags: doug mastriano general assembly general fund lincoln university penn state university poynter institute senate state government committee temple university universities university of north carolina university of pittsburgh university of pittsburgh transparency these universities salary information the center square the universities the universities information this legislation online database report would require open records other states be required

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Virginia Colleges, Universities Eager to Establish K-12 Lab Schools

by Tyler Arnold

 

Higher education institutions from across Virginia have begun the initial planning stages to establish K-12 lab schools as they await guidance from the Virginia Department of Education.

More than 30 schools have expressed interest in creating lab schools, which would be public schools run by colleges, universities or other higher education institutions. One of the goals of the program, which was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year, is to connect students with university resources they would not otherwise have access.

”I think it’s a really important opportunity,” Mark Ginsberg, the provost and executive vice president at George Mason University, told The Center Square. “…However we can make education to be more successful for our children, the better off we will be.”

George Mason, which is in Fairfax County, is one of several higher education institutions that has begun talks with local school districts to discuss collaboration for lab schools. However, Ginsberg noted most of the conversations, at this stage, are not formal because the university is awaiting state guidance.

Ginsberg said if George Mason is approved for the creation of a lab school, the university would collaborate with the public school divisions. He said the program is a win-win for public schools and universities and university scholars can help school divisions develop best practices and provide students with the best education possible. He added the program would also help address the teacher shortage.

Some rural parts of the commonwealth, including institutions in southwest Virginia, are also looking to participate in the lab school program. David Matlock, the executive director at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, told The Center Square rural lab schools could improve disparity and level the playing field by allowing students to access enhanced resources and equipment they would not otherwise be able to access.

Matlock said a lab school established by the center would give students access to college and university faculty, which include doctors, nurse practitioners and others. He said students would be able to access the virtual cadaver lab and other tools that are not available at any high schools.

“There’s some equipment [available here that students] would never … get exposed to until after graduation,” Matlock said.

The center is still in the initial planning process to determine its focus for a lab school, whether it be health-focused, computer science-focused or more broad. Matlock said these schools should be a collaboration between K-12 public school divisions, colleges and universities, employers and parents. He said these collaborations would provide the best return on investment for the commonwealth and the individual students.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Center Square that lab schools will expand opportunities for students.

“There is great interest across the Commonwealth to launch lab schools, which will expand opportunities for our students —especially those most in need of a different approach to learning,” Porter said. “The budget provides $100M for lab schools, including $5M in planning grants and $20M in startup costs for lab schools and expands the number of partners that can participate. There is tremendous interest from around the Commonwealth to launch these lab schools, including in Mecklenburg, where the governor is visiting today.”

The lab school program received bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

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Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.

 

 

 

 

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