PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – University of Pittsburgh officials say a proposed change in funding the three state-related universities could mean a sharp increase in student tuition.

A local lawmaker says it’s time to spread state tax dollars among more students.

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“Right now we select three schools and provide $580 million to them with no annual report,” Pennsylvania Rep. Eric Nelson, a Hempfield Republican, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

Nelson wants to stop direct state aid to Pitt, Penn State and Temple University and instead create a Pennsylvania College Voucher Fund for all eligible students.

“Should the state be picking winners and losers? Just three schools for a massive amount of money?”

“I have two kids who attend Penn State, and they love it. But if I had a kid attending CMU, Duquesne or St. Vincent, should they not be entitled to taxpayer funds?” asks Nelson.

The problem with that says Pitt’s Vice Chancellor Paul Supowitz is the money Pitt gets from the state is used to charge Pennsylvania students a much lower tuition than out-of-state students.

“At Pitt, it’s about $15,000 less to attend for Pennsylvania residents than it is for out-of-state,” notes Supowitz. “What it would essentially do is create one uniform tuition rate across the university and that would treat in-state and out-of-state students the same and that would be a significantly — very much a higher amount.”

Pitt officials have sent an email out to its alumni, urging them to contact state lawmakers to stop any reduction in the $155 million Pitt receives each year.

“Pennsylvania, if they were to take that step, would be alone in this country in not having a public, flagship research university,” says Supowitz.

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“If you’re a Pennsylvania resident, your son or daughter, your child, can attend any of these universities for a significant discount,” says Supowitz. “At Pitt, it’s about $15,000 less for Pennsylvania residents to attend.”

“We’re not necessarily taking money from Pitt and Penn State,” insists Nelson. “We’re giving money to individual students, and they get to choose where they want to invest in their post-secondary education.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Natalie Mihalek, an Upper St. Republican who chairs the Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, says a drastic change in funding Pitt hurts current students and their families.

“I think that puts our students at a disadvantage. I don’t know that the system is equipped to handle a drastic change in the immediate future. But this is meant to drive a conversation on how are we funding education in the commonwealth,” says Mihalek.

Nelson has not yet introduced a bill. Instead he’s circulating a memo looking for support from his colleagues.

Underlying this debate, some tell KDKA privately, is unhappiness with the liberal bias of these universities, as Nelson wrote in his email to colleagues “to a point where they do not reflect the ideals of our region.”

“We’ve seen across all three of those universities that there is a bias against certain schools of thought,” says Nelson.

But Nelson denies that his bill is designed to punish Pitt or the other schools.

“This bill is not a retaliation bill in any means,” he says.

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The issue is compounded because it takes a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate to approve funding for these state-related universities. That means both Republican and Democratic votes are needed. In recent years, getting those votes have become a lot tougher.