Thursday, March 27, 2008

Republicans Love Mansions for Political Leaders

Book Review of “Shelter for His Excellency” by LeRoy Greene

This book provides a history of where Pennsylvania Governors lived while serving their Gubernatorial terms. This book is of historic interest as it was written and published before the current Governor’s Residence was constructed. This records the history of Governors’ residences that few remember.

At times, this serves as an important footnote to key events in history. For instance, it mattered that there was once two residences. There was one for the Governor who declared Pennsylvania was actually a Swedish colony called New Sweden while another Governor settled across in a residence across the river and claimed New Netherlands for Holland. We learn important safety facts, such as never build a residence too close to a power keg. This mistake led to the destruction of the first private Governor’s residence on Tinicum Island in 1645. Dutch and British Governors later squabbled militarily and through capturing the others’ residences until Holland decided to let the British have the colony.

When William Penn received a land grant to establish Sylvania, the King insisted the land instead be called Penn’s Wood. Connecticut as well as Lord Baltimore objected and argued their claims to parts of Penn’s Wood. In 1682, the first British capital was established in Chester with the first General Assembly meeting there on December 4, 1682. This was the start of the longest continuous legislative body on Earth. Connecticut incidentally held onto its claim of most of north center Pennsylvania until 1802, when Congress decided the land belonged to Pennsylvania.

Lancaster became our Capitol in 1799 and then Harrisburg in 1812. Eventually, the legislature decided there was a need a place for the Governor to live and conduct official business, including meeting guests. A used mansion called Keystone Hall was purchased on 311-313 Second Street. In part, some legislators wished to establish a permanent residence to prevent discussions about moving the Capitol. Some Philadelphia legislators were suggesting Philadelphia should be the Capitol.

This residence provided Governors a place to relax and make observations, such as Governor Daniel Hastings’s astute declaration that “some people have to be mightily careful when they come through our park or our squirrels will get them.” It provided a place where Governor Samuel Pennypacker could return after working late hours, often as late as 6 pm, and compare former Governor Robert Pattison to a katydid declaring that Pattison “never did anything, and yet this absurd insect, year in and year out, kept repeating the same song.” It was a home where Governor Martin Brumbaugh could decide to run for President on his record and realize a few months later that not enough voters cared about his record.

While we herald the current Governor’s Residence, it is good to be reminded that past Governors lived elsewhere. This is a good history that helps us remember past residences, and the histories associated with those homes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Keeping Attending College Affordable for Young Republicans

There are several legislative ideas that have been offered addressing the issue of college education costs. There is a national movement to make college textbook publishers more accountable, especially when issuing high priced new editions of textbook. Doing so discourages the re-sale of old editions of textbooks, even though the changes in the new editions may be minimal.

Dual enrollment is a program where students can count a dual enrollment of their senior year of high school along with their freshmen year of college. While this is legally allowed in 47 states, it seldom is used.

There are numerous ways this can accomplished. Ways to achieve this include
a.) allowing classes counting for both high school credit to be taken at the high school during regular hours with high school teacher where a college approves the high school teacher and the course as approved for college credit,
b.) providing courses at a high school after regular school hours with college approved teachers (be they high school or college teachers). Such courses could also be offered to the general public, or
c.) allowing high school students to take the courses at a college. Internet instruction or independent study is another option for dual enrollment.
d.) Some colleges also accept approved testing of knowledge learned before entering college. A student passing a test receives as college credit for passing the test. These are usually known as Advanced Placement tests.

The goal is to allow one year of high school to count as college credit, thus saving one year of tuition (or at least allow high school students to obtain at least one semester’s worth of college credit while in high school). This will require coordination between high schools and colleges to allow a year (or perhaps even more?) of instructional opportunities to be offered. There could be specific state funding provided for creating these programs as well as creating an office that could work with colleges and high schools in establishing these programs.

There are three college cost containment bills in legislatures in Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington. The key component in these bills is that college costs would be reduced due to increased state funding. Hawaii seeks doing this to increase the number of students that can go to college. The Maryland bill pledges full funding of goals specified in a Higher Education Commission report. Washington proposes creating and implementing a statewide strategic master plan for its college and universities.

In addition, a bill in Illinois would increase state funding of college grants and loans in order to make college more affordable to more students. Bills in Alabama and Rhode Island would create a state income tax credit for education loan payments. The Alabama proposal would also allow an employer to claim a tax credit if the employer makes a college loan payment on behalf of an employee.

Two bills have been proposed in California that would require college financial aid personnel to abide by ethical standards. Issues have been raised about the associations and perks provided by lenders to college financial aid personnel. The proposals would prohibit gifts and significant perks to be provided to these personnel by lenders. One bill would require financial aid personnel to provide students and newly admitted applicants with a list of the different public and private lenders along with their interest rates and conditions of their loans for college costs.

The U.S. Education Department’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education has recommended requiring college accreditors to include academic quality comparisons in their analyses of college. The objective is to create both cost and education quality comparisons among colleges. It is hoped that if the public can see what colleges are spending their funds on and make perhaps subjective analysis on how effectively funds are spent and what academic goals are achieved, the public will better determine where they wish to have their children attend colleges.

The subjective nature of this has created much opposition and Congress appears to be rejecting the proposal to make this a Federal requirement. The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges as well as they American Association of State Colleges and Universities have created voluntary accountability standards which are being used to evaluate some college. State governments could adopt these standards (although likely with a strong fight in opposition) they could encourage voluntary compliance by colleges with their states.

A less controversial version of this would be to better disseminate cost comparisons and non-subjective data among colleges without making subjective academic quality calculations. Thus, the public could see how much money in total and per student is spent on academic programs. The public could also be provided such datum as graduation rates and scholarships available, with breakdowns where available by department.