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Lawmaker: Regents’ Request for 4-Percent Budget Increase “Optimistic” PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Thursday, 22 September 2011 10:27

The Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously Tuesday for a budget that seeks a 4-percent increase for Iowa’s three state universities in Fiscal Year 2013, but at least one key lawmaker called the request “optimistic.”

“A 4-percent increase would require us to short other areas,” said Iowa House Education Chair Greg Forristall (R-Macedonia), who’s also a member of the legislature’s Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “That would be a pretty optimistic request.”

But state Senator Brian Schoenjahn (D-Arlington), co-chair of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, was more receptive to the proposal, especially in light of increasing student debt.

“At first glance, this does not seem out-of-line at all at this time,” Schoenjahn said. “I think it’s reasonable because even this year, we fought long and hard for the Regents funding. You have to remember that we have a surplus in the state budget of over a billion dollars. I thought we could have done better with the Regents this year.”

The Regents’ proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 includes $470.8 million for higher education, which is an $18 million – or 4-percent – increase, according to budget documents. In contrast, this year’s budget is only 0.5 percent more than the previous year.

“Inflation is somewhere between 2.6 and 4.2 percent,” said Regents President Craig Lang of West Des Moines. “If you just follow a general trend of inflation, you would hope that 4 percent was realistic, not optimistic.”

Patrice Sayre, chief business officer with the Board of Regents, said the state has cut funding to Regents institutions by 25 percent since Fiscal Year 2009. And while tuition rates have increased an average of 4.6 percent per year during that time, the budget only increased 2.4 percent.

“Even if the $18 million is fully restored, we’re still 21 percent down from where we were in 2009,” said Regent David Miles of West Des Moines.

But Forristall pointed out that the three-member Revenue Estimating Conference, which makes the official estimates of state revenue, predicted a 2.5-percent increase in state revenue for the coming fiscal year. He said revenue has gone up half that rate since the fiscal year began July 1.

For the Regents, less state money generally leads to larger tuition increases.

“Every penny that the state does not fund for the regents ... is going to be passed directly along to the students, and we’re going to be losing our best and brightest to other states,” Schoenjahn said.

Forristall said he hopes it doesn’t come to that. “I think that raising tuition should be the last choice they would make,” he said.

Also potentially working against the Regents in the 2012 legislative session will be the larger focus on primary and secondary education. Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass on October 3 are expected to present recommendations to transform Iowa’s education system.

The focus is expected to be on Iowa’s elementary, middle, and high schools. At the Iowa Education Summit in July, Branstad and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pointed to declining student test scores and called for increasing Iowa’s academic standards, adopting more innovative approaches, and being more selective about who becomes a teacher.

“As the chairman of the House Education Committee, I’m thinking more K-12 right now,” Forristall said. “But we realize that in order to get more qualified teachers, we need to pay attention to higher education, as well.”

Branstad spokesperson Tim Albrecht told IowaPolitics.com that higher education is playing a part in the reform proposals. He said public and private college presidents have been involved in the ongoing discussions and roundtables, and community colleges have played an important role in providing guidance, as well.

“We have also been working closely with college teacher prep programs,” Albrecht said.

University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen said the education summit focused on changes affecting preschool through 12th grade, “but for all those programs or changes to be successful, it will integrate into how higher education participates.”

One example, Allen said, is the governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics Advisory Council, of which he is co-chair. The council is working to bolster Iowa education and innovation in those areas.

Lang said he believes the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, which specializes in training teachers, can be the “world problem-solvers of pre-K through 12.”

State agencies are required to submit their Fiscal Year 2013 budget requests by October 1, kicking off the budgeting process for next year. Branstad in January will submit his proposed budget to the legislature.

One thing that’s different this year: At Branstad’s request, the legislature earlier this year approved a two-year budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The governor ultimately signed into law a budget that funds 85 percent of the budget for Fiscal Year 2013.

This article was produced by IowaPolitics.com. For more stories on Iowa politics, visit RCReader.com/y/iapolitics.

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