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Legislature Puts Education In A Tough Spot Board Will Either Have To Break Promise To Students On Fee Hikes Or Cut Programs

Members of the state Board of Education on Wednesday found themselves facing the choice of breaking faith with Idaho’s college students on annual fees or slashing programs in the wake of an inadequate state aid package for higher education.

“The Legislature didn’t give the money that was necessary,” Board President Roy Mosman of Moscow said. “The Legislature ignored the board saying we didn’t want to be in the money-raising business and put us in the money-raising business.”

The board will decide next month in Idaho Falls just how much to raise student fees for the 1995-1996 school year.

Since 1991, it has operated under a policy of imposing annual fee increases equal to the consumer price index plus two percentage points. It replaced huge jumps in fees after a year or two of stability with a relatively modest and predictable yearly increases.

For the coming year, that put the increase at 4.7 percent.

But when lawmakers trapped themselves into a bare-bones state budget dictated by the $40 million state-financed property tax reduction, it left the four schools with only 2.5 percent more in state aid than they received this year to accommodate increased enrollment and industry-demanded expansion of engineering education in Boise.

The result has been initial proposals from the schools for more than twice the percentage increase called for by the four-year-old policy.

“This board made a commitment to students,” Mosman said. “As my dad used to say, ‘A deal’s a deal.’ We made a deal. Are we going to stick by it or not?”

The University of Idaho has proposed an 8.7 percent hike to $841 a semester, Idaho State 8.7 percent to $815 a semester, Boise State 11.5 percent to $881 a semester and Lewis-Clark State College 9 percent to $768 a semester.

While those proposals only set the upper limit for board consideration and the eventual increase will be less, education officials said the increase would have to exceed the 4.7 percent allowed under the policy or programs would have to be cut.

Board member Keith Hinckley of Blackfoot said that was exactly what legislators and the governor contemplated with their budget scheme. But Idaho President Elisabeth Zinser maintained that once the fee-increase issue is aired, there will be student support for an increase above 4.7 percent because of the cutbacks a lesser hike would force.

Critics of the Republican economic plan for the state warned earlier this month that the tightfisted aid package for higher education would simply shift the burden of financing the public colleges from the state to the students.

And even Republican House Speaker Michael Simpson, a strident supporter of GOP Gov. Phil Batt’s economic program, agreed the state aid package for the four schools was inadequate.

“The area of the state that got shorted the most was higher education,” he said, agreeing that the increased student fees will result.

“But it’s a matter of priorities,” he said. “We could have done without other things and put that money into higher education, but the majority wanted to do the other things.”

Tags: budget

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