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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The Regents meet for the third time this school year to discuss university funds, Klein remains hopeful

Sam Gross
Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, speaks to the board in Tempe on Thursday, Feb. 4. The Regents met for the third time this school year to discuss tuition and university funding.

Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein stood in front of the state legislature’s appropriations committee last week and fought for the sake of Arizona’s public universities.

Klein was advocating for an additional $24 million to be added to the state budget proposal in the name of higher education. The budget proposal for fiscal year 2017 alone adds $284 million in new spending.

The $24 million would be an addition to the $8 million proposed to the legislature in Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal. The money that Klein is requesting would be to recoup the additional $24 million tacked onto the $99 million in education cuts proposed by Ducey last year that totaled $123 million.

The budget request

In late 2015, the board submitted its budget request that was to be approved for the fiscal year 2017 to Ducey.

In a nutshell, the FY17 request asked that the state reimburse the $146 million slashed from the universities’ budgets following the 2008 recession. The governor responded to the request by proposing the legislature put forth between $8 million and $138 million short of the number that the regents sent him.

This is the first year since 2008 that the governor has not proposed to slash education spending, but rather increase it.

Eileen Klein

The regents re-evaluated their approach to this year’s request, so that it better demonstrates what the state universities have to offer in terms of producing a better-qualified and better-prepared work force.

“It’s really a change in how we’re asking for the state to invest in the universities,” Klein said. “We’re trying to move away from the era where general fund appropriations go in for general purposes at the university, and instead were asking the legislature to begin committing state funding to investing in our students.”

Rather than approaching the legislature and ask that it directly give $146 million, the regents are framing it in the form of per-student expenditures. To be exact, they were requesting that the state fund 50 percent of in-state students’ tuitions.

The $8 million proposed by the governor would bump up state subsidy for in-state tuition for Arizona residents from 34.2 percent to 34.8 — a bit short of the regent’s goal.

While this number is far from the 50 percent goal, Klein said that it is a step in the right direction: a move away from education defunding.

“While the numbers certainly aren’t what we hoped, … [Ducey] is ending the era of cuts and beginning a new path and signaling to the state that it is time to start investing again in our public universities and their students,” Klein said.

With the percentage of an in-state education funded by the state hovering at about a third, and the economy now on the upswing, she is calling for the state to cover at least half.

The appropriations committee

The following week, Klein appealed to the senate appropriation committee and asked to add $24 million to Gov. Ducey’s original proposal of $8 million. The $24 million would be to recoup the additional cuts that the legislature added to Gov. Ducey’s $99 million in recommended cuts last year.

“It was a very thoughtful conversation,” Klein said about her time on the senate floor during her Thursday presentation at the Arizona Board of Regents meetings at Arizona State University. “It was, however, quite spirited … I think though that by the time we left, that people really had come to appreciate really what the significance of the state dollars means to the universities.”

Klein added that she presented in front of the two chambers for nearly two hours, a privilege which, according to her, is not afforded to many. Something that she told the regents signifies the importance that education holds to the states’ budgetary priorities.

“If you had ever had any doubt that you have an advocate in the regents — I mean that was a very, very difficult time and she handled it extremely well,” Regent Greg Patterson told the board following Klein’s presentation.

Klein said that she is confident that the legislature will give more than the proposed $8 million.

What this means for the UA

According to Klein, the most significant takeaway from the governor’s budget proposal and the appropriations committee is that the governor endorsed the regents 50/50 per-student funding model and ended the era of slashed education budgets.

“The budget overall while, again, the numbers aren’t what we hoped for them to be,” Klein said. “It’s quite encouraging as far as the governor’s commitment and endorsement of the new model and his support of public university students.”

Since the goal of 50/50 funding from the state is something that will be reached incrementally over time, the university will have to find other ways to fill the budgetary gaps, according to UA President Ann Weaver Hart.

Refocusing on philanthropy and fostering new private, nonprofit and for-profit partners in the tech sector are some of the main efforts that Hart said the university is focusing on.

As far as how long it will take until the state is funding 50 percent of Arizona residents’ tuitions, Hart doesn’t know.

“If I knew how long this would take, I would go and make some money as a clairvoyant,” she said.

As of now, the governor has proposed to stop raiding the coffers of Arizona’s public universities. Policy makers feel that they have made headway, but for them the fight is not over.

“This is progress, it’s not enough and its one step at a time,” Hart said. “But year after year, it’s going to be a theme to us: fund Arizona students.”

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