Mason hopeful about state funding situation

BY BRIANNA JETT | MARCH 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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As the Iowa Legislature begins to hammer out the budget for next year, University of Iowa President Sally Mason is hopeful the state Board of Regents’ universities will continue to be a priority for the education committees.

Mason and the regents wish to not only freeze tuition but also eliminate the tuition set-aside program.

“It’s a very high priority,” Mason said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “Certainly, it’s a very high priority for the regent leadership. It would be wonderful obviously, not just to end the tuition set-aside program, but actually reduce tuition for resident students.”

The state House released a budget Wednesday that outlined a 2.6 percent increase in the general appropriations fund for the regent universities, including an extra $4 million for the University of Northern Iowa. This increase is meant to cover the cost of the tuition freeze.

“They asked for 2.6 percent, and we gave it to them,” said Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, and a member of the education appropriations subcommittee.

Many legislators are pleased with the result.

“I’m happy students this year won’t see an increase in their tuition,” Highfill said.

Mason remains hopeful that the Legislature will agree to fund all of the regents’ requests.

“That would be wonderful if they would, but we also know that resources are not free-flowing, and they are not unlimited,” she said. “We are going to continue pushing as hard as we can for the priorities that we laid out.”

Some legislators on the education appropriations subcommittee, though, say that it is possible to fund it all.

“One of the things we have to realize is that Iowa is in a really good set of affairs,” said Rep. Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, also an education appropriations committee member. “We have the ability to pay for many things, if we have the will.”

Sen. Bob Dvorsky D-Coralville, agreed.

“We have the funds; it just takes political will,” he said.

Rep. Daniel Lundby, D-Marion, also on the education appropriations committee, would even like to see the percent increase in appropriations increased from 2.6 percent to 3.5 percent.

Regent Robert Downer, agreed that the funding is possible but not likely. He is impressed with how the first budget turned out, though.

“I think the Legislature is off to an excellent start,” he said.

Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, was impressed by how the regents presented the requests and believes it helped their case.

“I think it sits well with legislators when they come to us with a plan,” he said. “I like the targeted spending … It gives transparency and accountability.”

The regents are not the only ones that would like to see an alternative to the tuition set-aside program. Highfill has a “strong dislike” for the program.

Lundby trusts the judgment of the regents, but he would like to make sure students are not hurt in the process.

“If we can help students go to college, that should be a primary goal,” he said. “No one should be denied an education if they have earned it.”

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