Will Education Win Over Horse Racing in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, education became an unlikely contender to the money held in trust as funds for the horse racing purse and in bestowing awards to breeders.

The move was initiated in February 2020, by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf when he proposed a $204 million university scholarship program that will be funded by the Horse Race Development Trust Fund

Naturally, proponents and members of the state’s horse racing industry opposed the governor’s proposal, saying that if such will be the case, it would be the end of the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania.

About Governor Wolf’s Proposed University Scholarship Program

First off, as a backgrounder to Governor Wolf’s controversial budget proposal, trouble has been brewing in universities for the past decade. Since 2010, fourteen (14) of Pennsylvania’s universities have been seeing a decline in enrollment and have lost about 20% of their student population. The reasons being the continuing nigh numbers of high school students failing to qualify, combined with rising competition in the education system.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s new budget proposal includes a $204 million funding for the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program. Grants will be available to students coming from low to middle income families residing in and out of the state. The eligibility of students though will be in accordance with the requirements set forth for state financial assistance and federal Pell grants. The scholarship grant will cover annual tuition, room and boarding costs and other university fees.

Governor Wolf’s proposed scholarship program aims to qualify about 25,000 students and enable them to earn a degree without being burdened by student loans. Statistically, the state of Pennsylvania ranks second in having the highest student debt in the country, averaging at $34,000 per student.

As a condition to the acceptance of the grant, potential Nellie Bly scholars have to agree that after graduation, they will remain in Pennsylvania for a certain number of years; depending on the number of years they received funding for their education. Otherwise, should they accept a job offer in another state, they will have to pay-back the amount used for their college education.

The Odds of Education Winning Over the Horse Racing Industry

Several state officials commend the governor’s proposed scholarship program as one that will help retain the state’s young talents whilst keeping them out of debt,

However, Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman, a fellow Democrat like Governor Wolf and who also sits as member of the state Senate’s Committee on Education harbors serious concerns about the impact of taking money from the horse racing fund.

Moreover, Mike Straub, a spokesman for the House Republicans currently holding the majority house seats, said it is not clear if the governor’s proposal will be included in the new budget. Straub said that over the years, the horse racing trust fund has already been tapped for previous proposals.

Nonetheless, the Pennsylvania governor said in his speech at the West Chester University that:

“I choose to support the tens of thousands of students in the state’s education system.”… “It’s a hill I would be happy to die on.”

Past the Wire, a horse racing news website noted that Governor Wolf’s proposed budget was announced a month before the global health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The disruptions in the ensuing months have drastically changed conditions in nearly all economic sectors, including those of the education system and that of the horse racing industry. Apparently the odds of the scholarship program becoming part of Pennsylvania’s 2020-2021 is quite high.