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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Legislative wrap-up

    PHOENIX – After weeks of legislative budget negotiations between Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, state universities are still in the dark about whether the state is willing to spend a portion of its record surplus, estimated to be more than $1 billion, on higher education.

    The 2007 legislative budget contains two important issues to universities that could mean tens of millions of dollars in new funding. There are two competing budgets, one of which will determine the state’s contribution to its three universities, and several bills aimed at increasing financial aid to students.

    The difference between the two competing budget proposals from the governor and Republican-controlled Joint Legislative Budget Committee is unknown, as the Legislature has adjusted its budget several times over the legislative session.

    The Legislature initially set aside $394 million in funding for the UA, but this number has grown with the Legislature’s approval of a pay raise for state employees, funding for maintenance of its buildings and a technical change to an existing law regarding students with excessive credit hours.

    Napolitano’s budget for the UA is $420.5 million, which has been adopted by the Arizona Board of Regents.

    At last week’s board of regents meeting, Regent Jack Jewett criticized the House chair for the Committee on Universities, Community Colleges and Technology, Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, saying she has done little to increase higher-education funding.

    “”I don’t think Knaperek gets it,”” Jewett said. “”She wants higher education on the cheap. … It’d be really nice if this was one of her priorities.””

    Knaperek said the Legislature has been completely funding the universities for years, and regents’ complaints that the state Legislature hasn’t been fully funding them is a matter of semantics.

    The regents and the Legislature disagree about the base used for the 22-to-1 funding formula used for universities. The 22-to-1 funding formula provides a set amount to pay for one faculty position, half of a support position, and operating and equipment costs associated with those positions for every 22 full-time students.

    Knaperek said the regents have set the amount at $100,000, while the Legislature has set the amount at $65,000.

    The regents had temporarily tabled a decision on whether to increase undergraduate student tuition because they had hoped to reduce the size of tuition increases if the Legislature gave more funding to Arizona universities.

    The regents made the decision on undergraduate tuition last week, and without a clear commitment from the Legislature, the board of regents approved tuition by the full amount asked for by each university president.

    Several of the bills of interest have stalled in the budget negotiations, as any bill with funding attached is being held until the governor and leadership agree on a budget.

    This includes an $8.2 million voucher program for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree at private Arizona institutions.

    SB 1446 would give students a $2,000-a-year scholarship to a private institution on a first-come, first-served basis regardless of financial need or academic merit.

    High-profile institutions where students could use the vouchers include Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Art Institute of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University, DeVry University and University of Phoenix.

    But smaller, lesser-known colleges also apply, including American Indian College of the Assemblies of God, Scottsdale Culinary Institute, University of St. Francis and Wayland Baptist University.

    Another bill vying for funding is HB 2626m, which would take $5 million from the state’s general fund and match those dollars with contributions from private companies to offer a unique $10 million work-study program for college students in Arizona.

    The unique work study program would pair students with private-sector companies in the their chosen field of study to help students pay for their college expenses.

    It is unclear whether Senate Bill 1133, which died in the Senate, will be a part of the budget. The bill sought to increase the appropriation to Arizona Financial Aid Trust program from $2.2 million to $9.1 million for next year.

    Senate Bill 1133 sought to reduce the percentage set aside for a permanent endowment from 50 percent to 25 percent. By reducing the endowment, supporters of the bill want to redistribute it, making it available to students. The current amount being set aside for student grants would increase from 50 percent to 75 percent.

    A bill that would have allowed UA students to demand alternatives to assigned course material when they find it objectionable died after Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, made a passionate defense for teaching controversial texts one the Senate floor.

    Using Ralph Ellison’s “”Invisible Man”” as an example, Sen. Waring said the 1952 novel, detailing the racism Ellison experienced in his life, should not be discounted because it includes a graphic, eight-page passage about incest.

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