WILKES-BARRE — Former state Department of Environmental Protection head John Hanger came to the fringes of the Marcellus Shale on Monday, but the gubernatorial candidate wasn’t here to talk about fracking.
Instead, Hanger, 55, stood on Public Square with the Luzerne County Community College’s Wilkes-Barre center as his backdrop and touted an education proposal he believes will position Pennsylvania families for the future both financially and from an employment factor.
He is pushing a plan he’s dubbed “The Keystone Opportunity Fund” that would grant high school graduates two years of community college or one year at a public university at no immediate cost with the idea that once those students graduate and gain employment, between 1.2 and 2.2 percent of their pay will be sent back to the state to pay off the college costs over a 15-year period.
“My (plan) would make higher education affordable for all Pennsylvanians and can be implemented immediately,” Hanger said. “The (fund) would be initially financed with a $1.5 billion bond and a total of $3.4 billion of bond financing needed over 10 years. The fund would become self-sustaining through graduate repayments within 22.5 years. The Keystone Opportunity Fund will end the era of crushing college debt that can follow students and families to the grave.”
Hanger said that once graduates enter the workforce, those who participated in the community college portion of the program would pay back 1.2 percent of their incomes, state university graduates would pay back 1.4 percent of their incomes, and state-related graduates would pay 2.2 percent back into the fund for 15 years.
State universities include 14 schools such as Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Mansfield and Slippery Rock. State-related schools include Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln.
Hanger, who served as secretary of the DEP during the Gov. Ed Rendell administration, came to the United States in 1970 and became a citizen in 1977. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and also lived in Ireland for a time.
Blueprint for future
He said he’s come to understand the importance of an education for all, regardless of finances, and believes his blueprint could make a difference for the nation’s future.
“The biggest barrier to higher education for middle-class families is the high cost of attending college,” said Hanger. “This plan would remove that barrier and assure that graduates would not be burdened with huge college loan debts. Since graduates would pay a percentage of income once they enter the workforce, if they lost a job or experienced a reduction in wages, they would pay little during hard times.”
Of course, if they create the next Google or become a doctor, lawyer or some other high-paying career, they’ll wind up paying much more back to the state than they financially received. But just giving those students that opportunity to succeed is what the program’s benefits are all about, Hanger, of Hershey, said.
He said what his program offers is a chance they might not have otherwise had. He said Pennsylvania has become “a laggard in education. We need to become a leader.”
$1.5 billion bond
The initiative would first be funded through a $1.5 billion bond the state would float. Then as the fund begins being sustained with graduates paying their legally agreed upon share, it should become self-sustaining.
“Until the fund becomes self-sustaining, the average annual taxpayer cost over 20 years is $200 million. There are multiple ways to finance the (fund) like continuing the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax or allocating a portion of a real drilling tax,” said Hanger. “But over time, as more and more graduates pay back into the fund, it will become self-sustaining.”
Hanger said his numbers show that won’t be the case for about 22 years. But he said the state can no longer continue to do nothing but cut education funding.
“We can throw open the door for public education for every Pennsylvanian,” Hanger said as his rented school bus he’s campaigning in drove around Public Square.