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Governor, regents join Iowa students in rally for more funding

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad is urging lawmakers to “restore stability and predictability” to Iowa’s three regents universities by approving his recommendation for an additional $20 million.

“It’s not a big increase, but it’s a move in the right direction,” the governor told several hundred regents university students and supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Monday.

He said the increase would “help students so you don’t have to have another increase in tuition” and keep them from incurring additional debt.

It’s not just the students who need support, added Iowa State University student government President Dakota Hoben of Muscatine. Because the universities add value “in every corner of the state, every day,” he said, students came together for the rally “because these great institutions need Iowans’ support.”

The rally, punctuated with hip-hop music and frequent applause and cheering, was the first time the student governments at the three regents universities made a conscious effort to get the regents, legislators and Governor’s Office involved in making their case for more funding, said Spencer Walrath, a Cedar Rapids Washington graduate and representative of the University of Northern Iowa student government.

“Having the governor here — that’s huge,” Walrath said.

Huge because Branstad, a University of Iowa graduate, is insisting that the Legislature add funds to the regents’ budget. State support for the universities has fallen 40 percent in the past decade, leading to significantly higher tuition prices.

Although Branstad has proposed adding $20 million to the regents’ funding next year, the Senate and House budgets are about $65 million apart. The Senate wants to add $34 million, while the House wants to freeze tuition and cut $31 million.

Craig Lang of Brooklyn, president of the Board of Regents, predicted that the Legislature will settle on a number between the governor’s and the Senate’s.

“The governor is solid with his number,” Lang said. “He’s made clear to us he believes we should negotiate clear to the end.”

Although he understands the Republican House majority believes it was elected to balance the state budget, Lange hopes the House negotiators will start with the governor’s number. As state revenue increase, he said, “they can feel that they are living within their means.”

However, Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, hasn’t seemed inclined to opening the purse strings.

“We’re stewards on behalf of the taxpayers of Iowa,” he said recently, so requests for higher funding are “going to have to be explained to us.”

Paulsen, an ISU and UI law school graduate, also said “it isn’t outrageous” to suggest that the universities see a reduction in state support next year as well.

Like other funding decisions, the final education appropriations budget is expected to be determined by a 10-member conference committee made up an equal number of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans.

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