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Branstad continues to advocate for higher ed funding

BY ANNA THEODOSIS | MARCH 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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DES MOINES — A proposal in the Iowa Legislature would provide more spending on higher education in the state.

Gov. Terry Branstad continued to advocate for his budget proposal to take $20 million in state tax dollars and spend it on higher education. Branstad said at a press conference on Monday that despite opposition, he will continue to defend the proposed budget.

"I support all of our recommendations in higher education," he said. "We want an educated work force — these investments in higher education make a lot of sense. I think we've put a lot of thought into our recommendations, and we are going to defend them."

University of Iowa Student Government President Elliot Higgins joined Branstad and student-government presidents from the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State at the press conference. Higgins said he supports Branstad's proposal.

"It's important that the Iowa state Legislature adequately funds Iowa state institutions in order to keep tuition costs down and to keep the quality of the education high," he said.

UI resident tuition rates for the 2011-12 academic year are $7,765 for instate undergraduates and $25,099 for nonresidents, without room and board — a 5 percent and 6 percent increase from previous year respectively.

One national expert said state universities are seeing cuts by legislators across the country.

"In Iowa, there's been a big impact," said Daniel Hurley, the director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. "There's been a faster increase in tuition costs. The $20 million sounds like a big number, but in the big picture, it's really not."

University of Northern Iowa Associate Professor of political science Chris Larimer agreed.

"[The increase in funding] would be beneficial to the institutions of higher education," he said. "We all pay taxes, it all goes to the general fund. I don't think there's any harm to the taxpayers."
State legislators said they also support the proposed budget.

"The Iowa Constitution actually dictates how funds should be used, and [education] is one of the goals of it," said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa. "I absolutely think we need to follow the advice of the Constitution."

Some state legislators, however, don't agree with Branstad.

"[Branstad] has not been really good with following through with the stuff he promises," said Sen. Thomas Courtney, D-Burlington.

However, Courtney said, he does support higher education in Iowa.

"I'm pretty much an education guy," he said. "I think spending money in higher education is money well spent, and we need to make sure it is used wisely."

Larimer said the House debate over the proposal is simply due to legislators' differing political viewpoints.

"If you look at the overall ideology [of the House] is, it's a little further to the right than Gov. Branstad in terms of government spending," he said. "Across the board, the House has been much more restrictive on funding levels than the governor's proposal."

Lamier said he is not surprised Branstad developed this proposed budget.

"I think at least on education [Branstad] has been more moderate," he said. "I think [the proposal] fits with his larger agenda on reforming and improving education in Iowa."

Members of the State Board of Regents have applauded the governor for offering some increased support, but they say the $20 million is not enough and are instead pushing the governor and the legislature to increase support by $40 million.


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