P. Republicans reconsider pit funding in fetal tissue research and college voucher program

As lawmakers determine Pennsylvania’s 2022-23 budget, some Republicans are reconsidering their support for state funding from the University of Pittsburgh.

The university was fired by Republican representatives for lack of transparency in the use of fetal tissue research and state funding.

Anti-abortion activists, including local and national Republicans, allege that Pitt was involved in illegal and immoral activities when university researchers conducted embryonic cell research with aborted embryos obtained through UPMC.

At the same time, some local Republicans, led by Hempfield State Representative Eric Nelson, are aiming to change the way funding is distributed to Pennsylvania in-state college students.

Nelson supports a college voucher program that directly funds all in-state students at Pennsylvania universities, colleges, and technical schools.

Currently, Pitt and four other state-owned universities receive state funding each year through non-priority utility bills passed in the state budget. A significant portion of this money goes to the public support funding of these universities, which schools use to raise tuition for in-state students.

Nelson said the college voucher program will redirect more than $ 580 million going to Pitt, Penn State and Temple University.

State Rep., A Republican member representing parts of Somerset and Fayette counties. Matt Dowling voted against Pitt’s nonprofit utilization bill in 2021 because of fetal tissue research. He plans to vote again against Pitt’s funding and supports the college voucher program.

“If (pit) fetal tissue research is not going to stop, I would rather donate to a student than fund a university,” Dowling said.

Governor Tom Wolf’s executive budget proposal for 2022-23 recommends a 5% increase in funding for higher education institutions. This is the first increase in funding for state-affiliated universities since 2019.

If Wolf’s budget is approved, Pitt will receive more than $ 159 million in public funding.

PIT Chancellor Patrick Gallagher recently sent a letter to the PIT community warning in-state students that their tuition discounts are in jeopardy.

“Some House Republicans … use unrelated topics as political bargaining chips to justify their failure to support Pitt students,” Gallagher wrote. As a result, the passage of the Appropriation Bill is in jeopardy, and more than 21,000 PIT students and their families may lose the tuition support they need. “

The letter did not specifically address the college voucher program or fetal tissue research.

In a statement, House Republican Caucasus spokesman Jason Gottesman said Gallagher’s claim was “ineligible.” Gottsman said the budget process is still in its infancy.

“Discussions continue on whether to fund all educational needs, and the final decision on any expenditure will be made by the Caucasus and the body as a whole,” Gottasman said via email. “Remember: any decision on whether or not to retain in-state tuition deductions is made by the University of Pittsburgh, not the General Assembly.”

Pitt’s non-preferential spending bill – which requires the support of two – thirds of the General Assembly to pass – is currently receiving bipartisan support from state senators, including Kim Ward, a Republican from Hempfield.

The 2022-23 budget must be approved by the legislature by June 30.

For nearly 60 years, Pennsylvania has provided financial assistance to provide in-state savings to schools affiliated with the state.

Compared to other states, Pennsylvania’s in-state tuition is wrong on the expensive side. Keystone State’s in-state tuition averaged $ 14,812, while in 2021 it was $ 9,212 nationwide.

New Hampshire and Vermont – only two states with more in-state tuition than Pennsylvania.

Pitt’s in-state tuition for undergraduate students is $ 19,092. Gallagher said an in-state pit student saves about $ 15,000 a year on tuition.

However, Nelson questioned whether all of these savings came from the state or if any money matched Pitt. As a state-affiliated school, Pitt is not subject to the Right to Know Act, which means that the public has no access to its financial records.

However, a state-affiliated university has a model for matching tuition savings. Penn State says public support funding from the state budget saves $ 5,400 per in-state student per year.

Penn State will more than double this amount, offering approximately $ 13,300 in tuition discounts for each in-state student by 2021.

Under Nelson’s plan, Pennsylvanians attending any in-state university, college, or technical school receive $ 8,000 each year if their family income is less than $ 100,000, and $ 4,000 each year if their family income is less than $ 250,000.

Nelson said he believes taxpayer money should go directly to student taxpayers and their families, not to universities.

“I am not against universities, I am for families and students,” Nelson said. “Why shouldn’t the student receive direct funding?”

As long as the university is doing tissue research on the fetus, Dowling is having trouble with the state money that supports Pitt.

The fetal tissue controversy stemmed from research published by Pitt in 2020 on the transplantation of fetal organs into laboratory mice. In December, an independent law firm evaluated Pitt’s research and found that it was “fully compliant with applicable law,” but critics say the company’s assessment was blurred by conflicts of interest and incomplete review.

The general support funding that Pitt receives for tuition savings does not fund research. Dowling agreed, but he still worries about Pitt getting any support from Pennsylvania.

“The money in my right pocket and the money in my left pocket are the same because they go into the same person’s pocket,” Dowling said. “As a Commonwealth, I think it’s important that we remember that these institutions are doing unforgivable research, and that we are stuck in life.”

Maddie Icon is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madi at maiken@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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