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Regents want funding boost, but legislators not so sure

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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WEST DES MOINES — The state Board of Regents will seek more than $621 million in appropriations from state legislators in the upcoming legislative session. But state politicians have mixed views about whether the 4 percent increase over last year's funding is feasible.

"There are a lot of demands and a limited amount of money," said Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia. "Four percent could be fairly optimistic at this point."

At Tuesday's meeting, Regent President Craig Lang said the increase is a message to legislators and Iowans that decreasing state appropriations is no longer tolerated.

"I think what's important is that we send a message to the people of Iowa that the decrease in appropriations has stabilized," he said. Regent input on tuition costs should have more weight with legislators, he said.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said he thinks appropriations are vital to the public state universities.

"The state needs to do its part," he said. "I think that a 4 percent increase is needed more than ever. I'll be going back to work in January, when the Legislature makes the case, that this is such an important investment."

Bolkcom said he thinks Iowa is in a good financial standing and the state has the resources to fulfill the regents' request.

According to the appropriations request, higher-education's operating appropriations make up nearly $471 million of that request.

Currently, state appropriations make up only 35.7 percent of general-education funding for the regents' schools, down from 38.5 percent during last fiscal year, according to the report. At the same time, tuition now makes up more than 58 percent of the funding, up from 55.1 percent in fiscal 2011.

Lang said this year, the regents seek to "stabilize the loss" in state appropriations by making personal visits, along with the regent universities' presidents, to state legislators.

"We hope that we can stop [the loss of appropriations] and that the Legislature, through the constituents of Iowa, can understand what an important investment [higher education] is to the state," Lang said during the meeting.

Other officials said its important the regent institutions receive more funding in order to meet the continuously expanding needs.

"The Board of Regents cannot operate major state institutions with a static budget," said Patrice Sayer, chief business officer for the regents, during the meeting.

The regents said this year, they will focus on more affordable tuition costs. Regent President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter said state appropriations are important and are an investment in education and not only funding.

"Future cuts [in appropriations] will hurt the quality of education [in Iowa]," he said.

DI reporter Melissa Dawkins contributed to the report.


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