U. students travel to Pierre to lobby against education funding cuts

More than 120 South Dakota college students went to Pierre last week to talk about the governor�s proposed budget cuts with legislators.

Forty students from the University of South Dakota took part in this meeting, which took place Tuesday, March 1, one day after students staged a demonstration on the lawn of the Muenster University Center in regard to the cuts.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed cutting at least 10 percent from each state-funded program, including that of the Board of Regents, which probably will lead to an increase in tuition.

Tim Carr, president of USD�s Student Government Association, was among those who made the trip to Pierre.

�We had some pretty candid conversations,� he said. �I thought it was kind of good to get the issues out on the table and as far as whether we made progress, I don�t know that we�ll be successful in stopping or curbing the budget cuts. I certainly remain hopeful that we can, but if nothing else, I think we made it clear to legislators the impact that the cuts will have on students, and really the economic development prospects for the state.�

A bus left USD at 7 a.m. last Tuesday, arriving in Pierre at approximately 11:45. At 12:15 p.m. a press conference was held, during which statements were made by Carr, and the presidents of SGAs from South Dakota State University and Northern State University, and the director of the South Dakota Student Federation.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, and Senate Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, also spoke at the event.

According to USD�s newspaper, The Volante, Rep. Tom Jones, D-Vermillion, was the only District 17 legislators to attend the event.

�I think they certainly understand the importance of higher education,� Carr said of the legislators. �I don�t think they don�t get that, or don�t feel that it�s worth the investment. The priorities in the legislature right now are around eliminating the structural deficit in one fiscal year. If that�s done, there�s no way higher education can escape it, or even partially escape it.�

Carr added that some of the legislators, as well as the universities and the Board of Regents, are pushing to eliminate the structural deficit in two years, and thereby ease the shock of the cuts, although the outlook for this is unlikely.

�One of our arguments is, yes, in the short run this might save us some money, but in the long run if you don�t invest in producing an educated workforce, I think that�ll have economic consequences that won�t be solved for years to come,� he said.

The issue of raising taxes also came up at the meeting.

�I think, frankly, that�s just not in the cards,� Carr said. �I�m no more a fan of taxes than anybody � but I think the reality is, when you do make cuts on this scale, somebody is going to have to pay more. The burden is going to be shifted, really, from the state to a more local level. And in the case of higher education cuts, that burden has been shifted to students and the faculty and staff who have lost their jobs.

�I guess we don�t call it a tax increase, but a tuition increase feels an awful lot like a tax increase,� he said.

In January USD President James Abbott said the total cut faced by the university is �just under $5 million,� making it hard to avoid a �significant tuition increase.�

Carr said the case made by the students is compounded by the fact that the legislators are hearing similar arguments from other programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

�There�s just a limited amount of revenue, and everybody can make a good case,� he said.

Still he and the other students are trying to remain optimistic.

�Speaking on behalf of students, we hope that legislators heard our message and they can work together across party lines to forge a compromise that will help soften the blow to higher education. I truly believe that if they make this investment in the short run, that investment will have a significant long-term pay-off for the state,� Carr said.

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