The 2019-20 Legislative Session has been a busy one thus far. In Harrisburg, we passed numerous bills out of the House that will impact every Pennsylvanian. While a lot of work does get done in the Capitol, I spent much of my summer talking with residents and listening to them tell me how bills we passed, and those we are poised to address this fall, would impact them.
As always, speaking with residents of the 169th Legislative District is enlightening. I want to share with you some of the things I heard from our chats.
As you probably know from news headlines, there’s a push to increase the minimum wage in Pennsylvania. When I spoke to several small business owners, many with just one or two employees, they said a higher minimum wage would drive them out of business. Profit margins for small businesses are already slim and an increase cost would be detrimental for owners and workers who may lose their jobs.
Our local economy, like in all communities in the Commonwealth, is built on the backs of our small businesses. Without them, our economy would collapse, and we’d lose the sense of community.
Many of these small businesses hire younger people – high school or college kids – looking to make money to pay for their car, gas or college books. After a skim through a jobs posting website, I couldn’t even find businesses that offer the minimum wage as starting pay. In fact, nearly all postings listed pay that was well above $10 an hour. And, that is what I heard at each business I visited this summer and from other small business owners and employees who I talked to throughout my travels.
Instead of government setting a benchmark that’s already being surpassed by the private sector, the House has been at the forefront of improving career and technical education (CTE), which will provide young people with the skills they need to fill the job openings in our local economy that would position them to make well above $10 an hour to start. To that end, the House approved a major, bipartisan package of bills, including House Bill 796
, which I worked on with Reps. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) and Aaron Bernstine (R-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence).
Our bill would create a new grant program to support apprenticeships in the Commonwealth. The bill uses a successful partnership between the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, numerous Hanover-area businesses, the Hanover Public School District and South Western School District as its basis.
In fact, the state recently recognized the benefits of our local apprenticeship programs when it awarded the chamber a $99,000 grant to help fund programs at Elsner Engineering Works, KLK Welding and Utz Quality Foods in Hanover. Over the years, I have visited these businesses on more than one occasion and have seen firsthand the work they do to help prepare our future workers.
A few weeks ago, I visited Lasered in Time in Glen Rock, which makes personalized items, to learn how improving CTE would impact the business and local manufacturing. This is a business whose owner graduated from the York County School of Technology and used the skills he learned there to open his own business.
What we’ve seen the past few years is a major skills gap that has left manufacturers searching for employees skilled in the trades. There was a time when nearly all students were told that the only way to succeed was to attend a four-year college. The sad reality is students are leaving college drowning in debt and with few job options. If college is for everyone, why isn’t the job placement rating for all colleges at or even remotely close to 100%?
I recently read with interest a column published in this newspaper entitled “The trouble with the ‘college is not for everyone’ mantra.” In it, the author, who just happens to be a college professor, essentially said colleges complete a student’s life.
In his column, the author states colleges give students the tools to be functioning members of society and provides them with the opportunity to “explore jazz, opera, experimental theatre, and non-representational visual arts.” The author went on to say he’d “love to live in a world where my plumber read Proust, where my mechanic appreciated mime, my janitor read Japanese history, etc”
I agree college does serve a purpose. I strongly disagree one must attend a college to appreciate the arts. My love for literature and other forms of art was born out of my appreciation of the arts that was nurtured by my teachers at Hanover Public School District. The great works of literature I’ve read in my life, I read because I wanted to read them, not because they were assignments. In fact, without the weight of a grade hanging above my head, I believe I appreciated the works even more.
The reality is one doesn’t need to go to college to read Proust, or appreciate the works of Renoir, Thelonious Monk or Pulcini. These are interests that can be developed in K-12 education with dedicated teachers like those that I had at Hanover. They taught me how to appreciate a good work of fiction, contemplate the thoughts in the great books, see the beauty in an unconventional piece of artwork and find heart-wrenching emotions in an opera.
As the House returns to session a few weeks, I look forward to taking up measures that will positively impact the lives of all Pennsylvanians, including those who may opt to not attend college.
Representative Kate A. Klunk
169th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross