'Play It Forward' Or Hunger Games Lottery?
February 10, 2015

In Pennsylvania, we've lost a lot of funding for both public schools and higher education under the regime of former Gov. Tom Corbett. So we're all hoping our new Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf can persuade the Republican legislature to restore at least some of it.

But one of the real shockers come from Philadelphia Democrat Anthony Williams, who coincidentally is running in the mayoral primary. Guess what his solution is? Via Sean Kitchen at Raging Chicken Press:

Over this four-year period, students and faculty from the state system were left waiting for their Superman.

Who would step up to the plate for students and faculty members?

Faculty members are still waiting, but it seems Pennsylvania has its own self-styled Superman who claims to want to save the day for students. That Superman is none other than State Senator and Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Anthony Hardy Williams.

Last week Anthony Williams corralled a number of his senate colleagues and introduced a 13-bill packet that focuses on putting money into the hands of some students while doing nothing to solve the structural crises facing PASSHE.

The legislative load includes: expanding online education, STEM incentives, financial literacy, “fly in 4″ and some other bills that arguably have some merit.

As a former PASSHE student who is carrying $30,000 in student debt, you could say I had some interest in these bills. However, as I read through the packet, one bill stood out as extremely sadistic – one authored by “Superman” Anthony Williams himself. In the press packet Williams’ office released before his press conference, there was a bill titled “Free Tuition Lottery.” Given Anthony Williams’connections to the charter school industry in Philadelphia, you would be forgiven if you thought the bill proposed a charter school-type of lottery system. That is, you place your name into a pool with PHEAA, the state agency that administers college grants to Pennsylvania residents attending college in the Commonwealth, and voila, magic. Your name is picked out of the lottery and Superman saves you. You! You were picked for free college tuition.

That’s how I thought it worked. But when you actually read Williams’ co-sponsorship memo, that Superman narrative morphs into a scene straight out of the Hunger Games.

The proposed legislation hasn’t been formally introduced as a bill…yet. It is being passed around the senate in the form of a co-sponsorship memo, which is a document that lawmakers use to recruit their colleagues’ support for a bill. The language in Williams’ co-sponsorship memo (SCO 430) should drop jaws.

Williams starts by acknowledging that Pennsylvania “is one of the most expensive states in the nation to go to college in as a state resident.” That’s true. According to the Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania is fourth in the country in student debt with students averaging $31,675, $30,000 for students attending public universities and 48th in the country in per capita funding. He goes on to explain that “PHEAA was only able to offer an average of $3,151 per full-time student during the 2013-2014 school year.”

Then Williams makes his move, saying, “we need to start thinking outside the box with new ways to encourage funding for higher education.”

What’s this “outside the box” thinking Anthony Williams is asking legislators to sign onto? Welcome to District 12:

My legislation will authorize PHEAA to create and operate a lottery fund that awards free tuition while simultaneously raising money for need-base grants that help low-income students afford a college education.

So instead of scratching tickets for granny, we can stroll into the local Wawa or Sheetz and scratch tickets for students.Here’s the best part:

This lottery will award PLAYERS with either: (1) full or partial scholarships to pay for a current or prospective students student’s tuition at a Pennsylvania postsecondary institution that receives PHEAA State Grants [emphasis mine].

Or, wait for it…

Or loan forgiveness for students debt already incurred at such a postsecondary institution.

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