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Effecting Change in Pennsylvania

October 09, 2023

In the ML program, Nick Miller MPA’22, LPS’22, ML’24, the youngest person elected to the Pennsylvania state Senate in 135 years, has discovered the profound impact that language has on the application and interpretation of the law.

Amidst pursuing two master’s degrees at Penn, Nick Miller, MPA’22, LPS’22, ML’24 hiked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and became the youngest person elected to the Pennsylvania state Senate in 135 years.

Headshot of Nick Miller, Pennsylvania State Senate Nick Miller, MPA’22, LPS’22, ML’24The fifth-generation Allentown, Pennsylvania resident graduated from Penn State University with a degree in finance and joined IBM as a project management consultant. However, a strong desire to make a meaningful impact in his community led him to transition to a role in public service.

“I saw that the school board was—and still is—struggling financially. I wanted to bring my finance background to the table,” Miller shared.

During his tenure, Miller served as the chair of the building and finance committees and as the board’s vice president, gaining first-hand insight into the poor conditions of the district’s school buildings. Some of his achievements included directing $34 million of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to upgrade some of the district’s oldest buildings, including installing air conditioning in 10 schools by 2025 and leading the school district through the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the district’s limited resources posed a significant challenge throughout his tenure on the school board. Recognizing that sustainable change could only be achieved at the state level, Miller set his sights on the Pennsylvania Senate.

“Many of the buildings needed to be renovated or entirely replaced, but the schools are so underfunded that they can’t afford it. So, you end up with classrooms full of lead, asbestos and no air conditioning,” Miller explained. “Some of these districts rely so much on state funding because the local property values can’t support adequate funding. I quickly realized that change had to come at the state level, which was one of the main drivers for why I ran for the Senate. I wanted to be that advocate for the Lehigh Valley and all the poorest school districts and schools across the state.”

Last year, Miller ran for a seat in the 14th district of the Pennsylvania Senate and won. At 27 years old, he made history as the youngest person elected in over a century. Since assuming office in January, Miller has introduced a bill targeting the 100 most financially deprived school districts in Pennsylvania, The Level Up Initiative.

“The state recently ruled that how we’re funding K through 12 education is unjust and unconstitutional. State officials like me now must respond and work together to figure out how we can make things more equitable and invest in these poor school districts,” Miller said.

Miller believed he could find the answers to these questions in the classroom and went back to school to pursue his Master in Public Administration and Master in Law (ML) degrees in 2021 at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Education has always been my foundation. That is why I’m so dedicated to helping fix that for my entire community. Not only funding, but also having the knowledge to be able to make the change that we need is important,” Miller explained. “Especially understanding the law, how it is written, policy and the legal dynamics of politics. Having that only adds to my ability to be a leader.”

Balancing his academic and professional obligations has required significant discipline. When Miller announced his candidacy for state senator, he was in the final semester of his MPA program. The hour-long drive from his office in Allentown to class in Philadelphia became an important part of his campaign routine.

“When you’re campaigning, you’re usually calling people, fundraising or setting meetings. The drive to school became the best time for me to conduct these calls because I could just speak through Bluetooth. That was good in terms of balance, as I knew I had that set time driving to school and back to call people,” Miller shared.

Miller has enjoyed law classes such as general business law and patent law. Through the ML program, he has discovered the profound impact that language has on the application and interpretation of the law.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned that I apply to my job is understanding that certain verbiage – specifically when we’re talking about changing bills and amending bills – can change how particular things include or exclude certain actions for state law,” Miller explained. “A specific amendment we’re working on now is for a first-time homebuyer program. We’re trying to change some of the wording so that it’s not just for a single-family residence, but the primary residence. So, if you live in a two-unit house, you can live in one of them and then rent the other one out.”

Miller is committed to continue to advance his campaign priorities of education investment and economic development, and he hopes to complete his ML degree in May 2024.

The ML program at the University of Pennsylvania Law School provides a specialized curriculum and expertise in the legal issues that intersect with candidates’ professional or academic pursuits as a non-lawyer.

Learn about Penn Carey Law’s innovative ML program.