Throughout our time in office these past seven years serving as state House representatives in Lancaster County, we have fought hard for the workers and taxpayers who seek an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
We work in Harrisburg for the same vision that Thaddeus Stevens once fought for as a state representative and later a United States congressman — equal opportunity.
Stevens recognized that for future generations to have a better life than those who came before them, education was key. He believed that if given the chance, anyone could better their circumstances if he or she had a well-rounded education.
Stevens came from poverty and was ridiculed for a walking disability, yet lived a full life with a multitude of accomplishments. Among those were attending Dartmouth, serving in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Congress, and authoring the bill that instituted free public education in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most radical Republican abolitionist of his time, Stevens helped author the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and actively aided runaway slaves escaping the South through the Underground Railroad.
He not only fought for what he believed through his role in public office but he was also an ardent philanthropist who gave thousands of dollars of his own income to charity and those in need in his community.
Upon his death, Stevens willed that a school be created to educate students, regardless of race or social status in “all industrial trades or pursuits.” In 1905, the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology was founded in Lancaster. Today, it offers 22 different trades and technical majors and boasts a yearly enrollment of about 1,375 students, about 97% of whom will become employed immediately after graduation.
Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology has been at the forefront of working to reverse the current trend in Pennsylvania of a shortage of skilled labor for an abundance of trade employment opportunities.
Recognizing the success of the institution and that more of such programs are badly needed in Pennsylvania, the state Legislature worked to pass bipartisan workforce development legislation and a strong education-focused state budget. We were proud to vote for the final year-end budget, which was signed by the governor in June. It makes a $10 million investment in career and technical education — $7 million to the CTE general fund line item and $3 million for equipment grants.
Additionally, it included a $4 million increase in funding for Thaddeus Stevens.
This funding will ensure that Thaddeus Stevens can keep costs lower for students, allowing them to graduate with little or, in many cases, zero student loan debt. It also will allow the school to expand its facilities to meet the demands of growing enrollment, giving more Pennsylvanians an opportunity to become highly paid skilled tradespeople after receiving an education from a school rated by Forbes as one of the top two-year colleges in America.
But what is more meaningful to these students than becoming a Forbes statistic is that they were able to achieve what Thaddeus Stevens himself sought for the generations after him: Breaking the cycles of poverty that so many have experienced in their families.
Twenty thousand people attended the funeral of Thaddeus Stevens 151 years ago in Lancaster after his death on Aug. 11, 1868. As we recognize the anniversary of his death, we as a commonwealth should pause to remember his inspiring life of public service and charity that led to the legacy of the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
If we hope to see the commonwealth flourish again and become once more the titan of the Northeast, we should look to the legacy of the titan of a man who once declared, “the blessing of education shall be conferred on every son of Pennsylvania, shall be carried home to the poorest child of the poorest inhabitant of your mountains so that even he may be prepared to act well his part in this land of freemen.”
Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is truly a gem in our own backyard that other schools in the commonwealth can look to as a guide in educating the next generation and increasing our skilled worker turnout. We are proud of its efforts and leadership in this endeavor and look forward to seeing the next class of graduates go on to succeed.
This op-ed was co-written by state Reps. Keith Greiner, R-Upper Leacock, and Steven Mentzer, R-Lititz.