For 35 years, thousands of Pennsylvania’s most promising high school students attended the state’s eight Governor’s Schools of Excellence, intensive, five-week, residential programs in the arts and sciences — and they didn’t have to pay for any of it.
The schools counted successful alumni in all walks of life, many of whom recall fondly the value of living and studying on a college campus with similarly talented, driven classmates at a formative age. In 2009, though, the schools were eliminated, victims of a state budget crisis. Although some universities offered comparable programs in subsequent years, most of those charged students thousands of dollars, thus altering the applicant pool.
Slowly, the official governor’s schools are making a comeback. Last year, the Governor’s School for Science reopened at Carnegie Mellon University and, this summer, a school for agricultural sciences will be housed at Penn State and one for engineering and technology will operate at Lehigh University.
That is a hopeful sign, but there is a long way to go.
There are no plans this year for popular offerings in global entrepreneurship, health care, information technology, international studies, teaching and the arts. Of those, the Governor’s School for the Arts, established first among its peers, was a storied program, featuring group and independent study in painting, sculpture, dance, music composition and performance, creative writing, theater and more.
Although all of the schools had a two-tiered application process — first within the student’s intermediate unit and then statewide — the screenings for the arts programs closely resembled auditions for university or professional companies, complete with nervous stage parents sequestered from their children while their work was being evaluated.
At the time the schools were abolished, they cost a total of $3.2 million a year, not a huge figure in the state’s $29.4 billion budget but an important contribution to promising young Pennsylvanians.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal for 2014-15 allocates $350,000 for the governor’s schools, a positive step. He and state officials should make a wise investment by reviving all of the Governor’s Schools of Excellence as soon as possible.