Branstad, Culver emphasize higher ed funding


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Politicians aiming to capture the governorship in November aren’t leaving students’ interests out of the picture. The incumbent Democrat and two Republicans hoping to replace him all have plans to ease students’ financial burden while maintaining the quality of education at the state Board of Regents’ institutions.

It’s no coincidence that Terry Branstad — a former Iowa governor who hopes to fill the seat once again — chose Iowa City, a college town, to outline his campaign priorities. He said creating jobs by boosting higher education is among the most important parts of his plans as governor.

Branstad visited the Hamburg Inn No. 2, 214 S. Linn St., Thursday to deliver his goals to locals — create 200,000 new jobs, increase family income by 25 percent, and maintain Iowa’s educational excellence. All that, while reducing the size of government by 15 percent.

“I just think that education is an investment in the future, and if people get a good education, they’re going to get a better job, they’re going to make more income, they’re going to be better off for the rest of their life,” he said. “That’s why I think education needs to be a priority in terms of funding.”
The portion of the University of Iowa’s general-education fund that is covered by tuition and fees has grown over the past 30 years. This year is the first time students are responsible for paying more than 50 percent of the university’s education budget.

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Branstad sympathized with students’ burden of ever-growing tuition. However, the former governor stopped short of committing to lowering the portion of university budgets covered by tuition.

“I want to take a look at the whole picture, and I also know that the state has severe financial issues, and it’s going to be difficult, you know, to deal with it,” he said.

Bob VanderPlaats, who will compete with Branstad in June’s Republican primary, said all Iowa schools — K-12 as well as colleges and universities — need to focus money on classroom education, making sure administrators act efficiently. Constant tuition increases make it difficult for Iowa college students to plan for the future, he said.

“We should be very transparent: We’ll say here is what you can expect your tuition to look like each year,” said VanderPlaats, who plans to visit Iowa City later in the campaign. “That way you can plan as a student with eyes wide open to what it’s going to cost you to get that degree from whatever college you plan on attending.”

Gov. Chet Culver has consistently touted education as a political priority. Since he took office in 2007, students’ share of the UI general education fund has grown 4 percent. That number grew just 7 percent during Branstad’s 16 years in office.

Jesse Harris, a representative from the Culver campaign, did not return phone calls on Thursday. Culver visited Hamburg Inn No. 2 last week.

UI freshman Nic Pottebaum, a Branstad supporter, said promoting education and pursuing other fiscal goals are related issues.

“It’s all about providing opportunity, and not only just students but also other people who are out of work right now,” he said. “It’s jobs, it’s developing the economy, it’s developing opportunity for people to have a life in Iowa.”

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