Grad students host legislative town hall

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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While budget debates are still going on at the Statehouse, some local Democrats are working to make sure Iowa's educational system is properly funded.

But they said they need students' help.

"We can't do it alone," said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, at a town-hall-inspired meeting Thursday night. Approximately 30 people attended the forum at Old Brick, 26 E. Market St.

Mascher said she would like to receive more feedback from students at all of Iowa's colleges. She said she'd like to constantly hear students' thoughts on decreasing state appropriations and increasing tuition.

She wants students to seek well-paying jobs in Iowa rather than leaving after graduation, she said.
"We bring you here, we educate you, and then we export you out," Mascher said.

She said a large problem is students are easily hired in many places around the world — often with higher wages.

"We believe that investing in education is an investment in our future," said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls.

Danielson, who called himself a "poster child" for public education — he received degrees from Hawkeye Community College and the University of Northern Iowa — said a sustained student presence at the Capitol is pivotal for making students' concerns about educational funding known to legislators.

"If we don't invest in us, who will?" Danielson said.

Education is an investment that matters for long-term state growth, he said.

"We wanted to give students a chance to have another opportunity to have direct contact with eastern Iowa legislation. Our voices can really be heard," said Lyndsay Harshman, the president of University of Iowa Executive Committee of Graduate and Professional Students, which hosted the event along with the Graduate Student Senate.

UI freshman Caroline Dvorsky said she attended the event because she thinks a discussion with legislators is a great way to have conversations and find a "common ground" on tuition, among other things.

"I think everyone should be passionate about it," the 18-year-old said. "It's our money, so we should, of course, have a say in where it goes into and how it's spent."

All of the legislators participating in the forum were Democrat, and they did not hold back in bashing Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed state budget.

"Sometimes, the problem with politics is that it gets too damn political," said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, during the forum.

Jacoby said the decreasing state appropriations and potential budget cuts is an "attack" on public education, and he is curious to see what students are hearing on their campuses across the state.

But at least one Republican said she didn't agree.

"I think that attacking Gov. Branstad for trying to balance the budget is a smart move by the Democrats, but it's not necessarily going to work," said Natalie Ginty, the president of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans.

After the forum, Mascher said she was "hopeful" about the student participation and discussion.

"What I love about meeting with students is they're interests are varied," she said.

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