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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Senate budget bumps regents funding $8.3 million

Funding falls short of request; ISU vet lab gains support
By Rod Boshart and Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Apr 30, 2018

Lawmakers are proposing bumping Board of Regents funding by $8.3 million for the 2019 budget year — less than the $12 million requested and not enough to make up for the $10.9 million midyear cut that Iowa State University and the University of Iowa had to absorb in the current budget year.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-7 along party lines to send Senate Study Bill 3220 to the full Senate for floor debate next week.

The bill proposes $562.9 million for regents universities in fiscal 2019. That’s up from this year’s $554.4 million but below the $575.3 million appropriated in fiscal 2017.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is proposing $567.8 million for the universities in her budget, which still is under consideration in both the House and Senate.

“We were given a target, and we have to do our best to stay in that target,” Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, co-chairman of the House-Senate education budget subcommittee, said Thursday.

“We were in constant contact with the regents and community colleges and everybody that was affected on this and they were all thankful,” he said.

“Everybody wants more if they can get it but they were all thankful that we were able with the numbers that we were able to give them. ... They understand the situation of the state, and they felt that they could work within those constraints to make their budgets work.”

 

‘WAR ON FAMILIES’

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the final figure.

“The war on higher education continues with this budget, the war on families and students,” he said. “This is nothing more than a big tax increase on students and families that attend our community colleges and our state universities.”

Bolkcom said Iowa and Iowa State — which each generate $400 million in federal research grants — are struggling to keep top faculty and researchers from being “cherry-picked” by other colleges and universities.

“The erosion of support for our public universities is turning into a generational problem. This isn’t something that is just happening this year,” he said, blaming the problem on GOP “fire sale” budget practices.

 

COMMUNITY COLLEGES

The Senate proposal calls for a $2 million increase for Iowa community colleges, which were asked to pare $1.6 million midyear.

The proposal calls for $202.7 million in fiscal 2019, which is in line with Reynolds’ request of $202.4 million. It is an increase from this fiscal year’s $200.7 million and from fiscal 2017’s $199.5 million.

The Senate budget also provides a 1 percent increase for the board of regents’ special schools — the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton.

In a statement provided to The Gazette, regents board President Mike Richards on Thursday expressed appreciation for the “proposed restoration of some of the funding that was cut from our public universities.”

ISU VET LAB

The Senate bill commits a total of $63.5 million toward construction of a new Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University, starting with $1 million in the 2019 budget year and $12.5 million in each of the subsequent five years.

That commitment falls short of the university’s request for $100 million — in $20 million annual increments over five years — toward a new $124 million stand-alone lab.

The state annually commits $4 million for operation of Iowa’s only fully accredited animal diagnostic lab, which is located on the ISU campus and is the busiest of 14 like it in the nation.

Lab administrators have called the lab imperative to the farming industry, especially during times of crises like the 2015 bird flu outbreak. The lab generates nearly $32 million in state revenue in a typical year and more than $100 million during animal health emergencies.

The lab sits on the precipice of losing accreditation, and thus much of its business, after the American Association of Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Diagnosticians last year warned of the “space and structural limitations of this aging facility.”

 

TUITION’S ROLE

Despite the board’s gratitude for the proposed funding increases, regents and their university presidents have been adamant and outspoken about the need to reverse a generational defunding of public higher education.

The state in 1981 covered more than 77 percent of regent university general education funding, while tuition accounted for about 20 percent.

Today, those percentages have flipped to about 30 percent state appropriations and more than 63 percent tuition.

Kraayenbrink, from the House-Senate education budget subcommittee, said Iowa and Iowa State are at the bottom of their peer groups on tuition rates.

“As long as the state is having a financial struggle and we want raises for our faculty to keep them here and we have improvements that have to be made around our schools, the only other revenue sources we have are tuition or private gifts,” he said.

Richards during the last regents meeting said students should expect tuition increases for at least five years — starting with one this fall amounting to 3.8 percent for resident undergraduates at the UI and ISU and 2.8 percent for students at the University of Northern Iowa.

Regent Larry McKibben urged student leaders during that meeting to contact the governor and urge her to fully support the board’s $12 million appropriations request.

COLLEGE NEEDED

In his statement Thursday, Richards noted Future Ready Iowa data indicates 54 percent of all the high-paying jobs in Iowa require at least a bachelor’s degree.

“The board will continue to strongly advocate for our public universities receiving the necessary level of state funding so we can provide the education that our students deserve and meet Iowa’s workforce needs,” he said.

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