Student protest floods Capitol in Harrisburg

    A day after the top House Republican said lawmakers would make sure Pennsylvania’s budget doesn’t cut funding for colleges and universities in half, students from Pitt, Penn State and the State System of Higher Education crammed the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg to ask for more money.

    Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget trims more than $500 million in spending by slashing funding for State System and state-related schools in half.

    Tuesday’s demonstration in Harrisburg follows similar protests Monday at Temple University in Philadelphia and last week in Center City.

    Penn State freshman Mokhtar al Hindi was one of the students packed onto the rotunda steps during his school’s noon rally. He said he appreciates Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s comments, but thought it was still important to rally against Corbett’s proposed 50-percent cuts.

    “If we’re not here then it’s going to be as if we don’t care. But in reality, we do, and we want to make our voice heard, that we care about the budget and what happens in the capital,” he said.

    Marcello D’Amore, who stood next to al Hindi, said he understands the state needs to trim funding for Penn State and other schools to fill a $4.2 billion deficit. Still, he asked that lawmakers keep the cuts to a minimum.

    “We need a big drop in that 52 percent [proposed cut]. Not a little. If the budget increases their tuition a lot, it’s going to force people to drop out. I know if it increases thousands of dollars, I might not be able to stay, either,” he said.

    Allegheny County Democrat Dan Frankel kicked off Pitt’s 2 o’clock rally by arguing the Pittsburgh school and other institutions have already helped keep state spending down by making do with relatively level funding over the previous decade.

    “Every single year, [Pitt’s] appropriation has fallen or been flat. So in real dollars, last year’s appropriation was no higher—less–than the appropriation it was 10 years ago. And inflation has taken its toll,” he said. “So we already have asked the university to do more with less, and they have.”

    Corbett defends his proposal by pointing to annual tuition increases at the schools.

    Turzai says the House will likely increase higher ed funding by taking money from the Department of Public Welfare budget. Corbett’s proposal increases the Welfare department spending by $600 million.

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