Oct. 24-Nov. 6, 2003
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Lawmakers back higher education but can’t agree on how to pay for it
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Teen grad students excel in academics

Lawmakers back higher education but can’t agree on how to pay for it

By Matt Kelly

Local legislators agreed on several points at a student-sponsored forum held Oct. 8 in the Newcomb Hall Theater, including that state higher education funding will remain lean in the coming legislative session.

“We can’t raise taxes for U.Va. when kindergarten through 12th grade education is not funded,” said Del. Robert B. Bell, R-58th District.

The forum, sponsored by the Student Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee, drew a crowd that filled three-quarters of the theater.

One state senator and six delegates touted the benefits of university research and spoke of education’s importance to the state economy. But they did not promise students more state support, noting they may face a $1 billion budget shortfall when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr., R-23rd District, said the state gave education $500 million in new money from fiscal years 1996 to 2001, then between fiscal years 2001 and 2004 removed about $305 million of that from the general fund budget. Higher education absorbed 40 percent of all state agency cuts, he said.

U.Va. has raised tuition and fees in the face of $52.2 million in state funding cuts between 2001 and 2004 — a 31 percent reduction in the University’s general fund appropriation.

Bell and Del. R. Steven Landes, R-25th District, warned students that legislators without universities in their districts are not always sympathetic to higher-education issues. Bell said there is a debate in Richmond about whether the state can afford to fund an elite institution of higher education such as U.Va., or whether it should pass those costs on to those who enroll.

In a Bell-prompted show of hands, about a third of the audience voted for tuition increases and a third voted for tax increases. No one supported letting the University absorb more budget cuts.

Del. John A. Cosgrove, R-78th District, said legislators should consider redundancies and ask if some institutions offer too much.

“You have to ask, ‘Are we being the best stewards of the money for the taxpayer?’” he said. “… Do we need 10 engineering schools or can we get by with six and put the extra money into research?”

Bryant said Virginia schools are still a bargain for out-of-state students, especially when compared with what other states’ schools would cost Virginia students.


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