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Iowa not alone in education funding woes

BY NINA EARNEST | FEBRUARY 10, 2011 7:10 AM

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Only two other states have had sharper decreases in state funding reductions to public universities from the last fiscal year than Iowa, according to a recent study.

Iowa ranks third in the nation with a 12.2 percent decrease, according to data collected by the Grapevine Survey from the Center for the Study of Education Policy and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

Only Missouri and Delaware topped Iowa at 13.5 and 12.4 percent reductions, respectively.

The Grapevine numbers — indicators of higher education funding for the coming fiscal year — include state support from tax appropriations, federal stimulus funds, and other state monies devoted to higher education.

As states across the country face slashed budgets, lawmakers are forced to priortize which departments to cut from.

Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, said legislators look to other states to see their spending patterns.

“The successful ones we look to emulate, the unsuccessful ones we look to avoid,” he said.

But Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said he feared Gov. Terry Branstad was looking to states such as Arizona — which greatly cut education spending — for ideas.

“He is looking at other states; the problem is he’s looking at states that I certainly don’t want to emulate,” Jacoby said.

Jacoby said Iowa is on the upswing economically, and “there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be in the top 10 percentile of states of how we fund education.”

State Board of Regents President David Miles, University of Iowa President Sally Mason, and Iowa State University Gregory Geoffroy met with Iowa legislators in Des Moines on Wednesday to discuss budget cuts. Miles said he is disappointed Iowa ranks so high on state appropriation cuts.

“The quality of Iowa’s public universities did not happen by chance or over night,” he said in a statement. “It was hard won through generations of investment by Iowans and driven by the enlightened leadership of these universities over the years.”

Brenda Bautsch, an education policy specialist from the National Conference of State Legislatures, said higher education is one of the easiest cuts to make.

“If anything, schools are going to be struggling even more with the stimulus funds running out,” she said.

Grapevine survey editor James Palmer said the majority of states are experiencing declines in state funding from the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year with an average decline of roughly .07 percent.

Iowa’s policymakers, in an attempt to make up for the state loss, used the $80.3 million in stimulus money distributed to its public institutions, according to the regents’ office.

Fellow Midwestern states such as Minnesota and Missouri have also seen appropriation decreases greater than 10 percent, according to the survey.

Clyde Allen, the chairman of the Minnesota Board of Regents, said Minnesota faced several reductions in the last few years because of the state’s “severe” budget problem.

“It certainly is hurting everything we’d like to do in higher education,” Allen said.

But Nebraska was one of the only Midwestern states to maintain flat numbers.

After cutbacks in previous years, Nebraska Regent Timothy Clare said he considered the lack of growth a “positive” in the current economic climate.

Clare attributed the stability to the regents’ work with Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman over the past three years.

“He sees the benefit of what higher education means to the economy in Nebraska,” Clare said.

A few states in the country, including Wyoming, managed to add to their appropriations. According to the Grapevine survey, the Western state experienced a roughly 24.7 percent increase in state funds.

Benefits from Wyoming’s rich mineral resources have strengthened its economic condition, said Republican Rep. John Eklund.

“We’ve got a conservative state, and we try to hold the line on excessive state spending,” Eklund said.

But Democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly said spending accountability is under strict scrutiny even in Wyoming.

“This notion that we have a lot more money just isn’t really true,” she said.


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