Friday, April 27, 2001

Higher-ed officials battling state cuts

By Debra Jasper
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Higher-education officials on Thursday attacked a legislative plan to cut $154 million from their budget over the next two years, calling it “a prescription for economic failure in Ohio.”

        Ohio's public colleges and universities would still get an increase of 0.8 percent next year, but Thomas Noe, vice chairman of the Ohio Board of Regents, noted that figure falls far short of what had initially been promised and doesn't keep up with inflation.

        Mr. Noe said Ohio loses out when lawmakers decide to spend an extra $1.4 billion on primary and secondary education over the next two years but can't find more dollars for colleges.

        “I think a policy of state support for education that ends at 12th grade is shortsighted,” Mr. Noe said.

        Mr. Noe predicted universities will instead seek to raise money through tuition increases of 7 percent to 8 percent.

        Mr. Noe was one of many critics who spoke out Thursday as hearings began on the state's two-year, $45 billion budget bill. Lawmakers have been scrambling in recent weeks to cut back spending in higher education and other areas in order to pay for a $1.4 billion school funding plan that must be in place by June 15.

        The Ohio Supreme Court, which has twice ruled Ohio's school funding system is unconstitutional, gave legislators until June 15 to devise a way to bring poorer schools up to par with wealthier ones.

        Hearings on the budget bill in the House Finance and Appropriations Committee continued most of the day Thursday despite the absence of actual budget numbers. Committee members finally recessed, saying they would return at 10 p.m. if budget figures could be compiled by then.

        Lawmakers testifying Thursday said the cutbacks needed to pay for the new school funding plan would come in a number of areas, although they offered few specifics.

        State Rep. James Hoops, R-Napoleon,said not all parts of the budget would be cut. He said legislators have agreed to spend more money to keep open unemployment centers across the state that had been slated for closing.

        Lawmakers also plan to help some universities by lifting a 6 percent cap on tuition increases in the summer of 2002.

        Mr. Noe said schools such as Miami University turn away thousands of students each year and can raise tuition without losing students. "It's obvious (that charging) another $500 or $1,000 a year would not take away their waiting lists,” he said.

        Mr. Noe said higher-education officials are not giving up the fight for money in the next few weeks. Once the bill moves to the Senate, he said higher-education officials plan to lobby lawmakers to restore money for higher education if the economy bounces back.

        Mr. Noe added that officials want funding restored for programs such as Access Challenge, which is designed to help keep community colleges hold tuition flat each year.

        The program will get an extra $6.7 million over the next two years, but the original budget called for a $25 million increase.

        State Rep. David Goodman, R-Bexley, said education officials should be happy even with the lower numbers for that program. “In this budget, that's impressive,” he said.

       Spencer Hunt and Travis James Tritten contributed.


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