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Higher education 'safety net' clears Senate Ed. committee

Higher education 'safety net' clears Senate Ed. committee

Dustin Hurst
March 2, 2010
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March 2, 2010

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, appearing before the Senate Education Committee Monday, said that in tough economic times, higher education funds usually suffer in greater proportion than those of other state departments because colleges and universities can raises fees and tuition to offset funding shortages.  Stegner offered up a plan to committee members that would create three separate accounts for reserve funding and would prevent dramatic increases in tuition and fees for students.

The first account would hold interest earned off student fees, which the bill’s sponsor in the House, Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, believes will amount to $114,000 in fiscal year 2011.  The state would hold the money in reserve and allow it to grow over time.   The University of Idaho would not participate in the program because it historically invests and manages its own interest account.  The other state institutions have not had direct access to the interest accrued by their student fees, a problem which would be corrected under this legislation, said Stegner.

The second and third accounts would serve as “bucket” accounts for state-funded colleges and universities.  One account would be a reserve for four-year institutions and the other would hold funds for two-year colleges and Eastern Idaho Technical College in Idaho Falls.  These reserves would receive money only from appropriations by the Legislature, which, due to large budget deficits facing lawmakers, will not happen in fiscal year 2011.

The funds in all three accounts would be paid out under direction of the Idaho State Board of Education.  The funds in the first account would be paid out in proportion to each school's contribution.  Boise State University, the state's largest school based an attendance figures, would contribute the most to the fund but would receive the most if the need arises.

The money in the two "bucket" accounts would be disbursed according to a formula devised by the board, based largely on school attendance and enrollment.

Gov. Butch Otter, through his chief of staff Jason Kreizenbeck, said he is supportive of the legislation because it would be a valuabe “tool” for higher education in the state.

The bill received unanimous approval by committee members and awaits a full hearing in the Senate.

(Note: Read about the bill's passage in the House here.)

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