Capitol Roundup: State System limited tuition hike at Pa.-owned schools

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
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WILKES-BARRE — The Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education this week approved the second smallest tuition increase in more than a decade for the 2018-19 academic year.

The $112-a-semester increase — less than 3 percent — was possible largely because of a fourth consecutive year of increased state funding for the System combined with expected health care and energy savings. An additional $20 million in budget reductions by the universities still will be necessary.

“I continue to be impressed with how our universities are able to offer an excellent higher education experience at a cost that is so much lower than other universities,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira.

Tuition at the 14 State System universities should remain the lowest among all four-year colleges and universities in the state — less than half that charged by most others. Most full-time Pennsylvania residents — who comprise nearly 90 percent of all State System university students — will pay $3,858 a semester in the upcoming academic year. A full year’s tuition will be $7,716.

The tuition increase will help offset a portion of a projected $49.2 million budget deficit this year, leaving a budget gap of about $20 million. The universities, which already have reduced expenditures by a combined nearly $360 million over the last dozen years, will have to make additional reductions.

The State System will receive $468 million in funding from the Legislature this year, an increase of $15 million from what it received in 2017-18. The state over the last four years has restored about $55 million of the nearly $90 million in funding that was cut from the annual appropriation at the beginning of the recession.

During that same time, however, the System’s mandated pension costs have increased by about $65 million, and other costs also have risen as the result of inflation and other factors. Even with the four consecutive years of increases, the current year’s state appropriation is about the same as what the System received in 2006-07.

The universities have generated millions more in cost savings by sharing a variety of services, including payroll, labor relations, human resources, construction support, legal services and library resources that otherwise would require massive duplication at each institution.

The state-owned universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. The universities also operate branch campuses in Oil City (Clarion), Freeport and Punxsutawney (IUP), and Clearfield (Lock Haven).

Shapiro applauds law expanding

power to prosecute elderly abuse

READING — Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week praised a new Pennsylvania law expanding his office’s authority to prosecute the abuse and neglect of care-dependent persons in nursing homes and similar settings.

Under prior state law, the Attorney General’s office only had power to prosecute neglect cases, not abuse.

“Prior to passing this new law, Pennsylvania law treated ‘neglect’ and ‘abuse’ differently,” Shapiro said in a news release. “Until now, my office only had jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute neglect of care-dependent persons. This new law gives us the law enforcement power we need to investigate and prosecute abuse as well.”

Act 53 gives the Office of Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those who physically abuse seniors in nursing homes. It also increases the office’s ability to prosecute neglect cases by removing the need to prove that actual physical injury occurred to establish the charges.

The Office of Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Section’s Care-Dependent Neglect Team works aggressively with local and state authorities to root out and prosecute neglect of seniors and care-dependent persons.

The office has recently brought felony neglect and other charges against a Luzerne County charge nurse, an Erie County aide, a Berks County man, and a Philadelphia nurse.

AG probing no-poach

provisions by franchises

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently sent a letter to eight national fast-food franchisers about “no-poach” agreements in franchise contracts, which harm low-wage workers and limit their ability to get better jobs within the fast-food industry.

Eleven state Attorneys General have requested information and documents from these companies.

The letter says that no-poach provisions make it difficult for workers to improve their earning potential by moving from one job to another or seeking a higher-paying job at another franchise location. Many workers are unaware they are subject to these no-poach provisions – which limit their ability to move to a better job.

No poach agreements are clauses, often contained in fast-food employment contracts, that prevent workers from switching between employers of the same franchise to obtain a better job with a higher salary or improved working conditions.

“The use of ‘no poach’ and ‘no hire’ agreements by national fast-food franchises unfairly exploits working women and men, especially low-wage workers,” Shapiro said in a press release. “Many employees only learn these agreements exist when they are denied the chance to advance to a better job, earn more money or obtain family-friendly schedule options. It’s wrong and I’m standing up and fighting for the rights of Pennsylvanians not to be exploited.”

According to the letter, 58 percent of major franchisers have no-poach provisions in their franchise agreements, and the number is even higher, at 80 percent, for fast-food franchisers. Worker advocates argue these provisions have led to persistent low wage growth and are anti-competitive.

The letter was sent to Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Little Caesars, Panera Bread, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Wendy’s. It asks these restaurants to provide documents that include copies of franchise agreements and communications related to no-poach provisions by Aug. 6.

Workers who believe their rights have been violated in their workplace are encouraged to file a complaint at www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint/.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the coalition included Attorneys General from Massachusetts, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island.

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By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.