November 30, 1997 in Idaho

College Education Needs Being Met Despite Regrettably High Prison Costs

Gov. Phillip E. Batt Special To Roundtable
 

This is written in response to the collaborative statewide news coverage of “colleges vs. prisons.”

First, I commend the media for spotlighting the taxpayers’ burden in funding correctional costs. I am making a concerted effort to reduce these costs while maintaining public safety. But I question the objectivity of several newspaper and television stations getting together, setting out a specious premise and then designing news stories to prove it.

That faulty premise is that prison costs are starving our higher education system. The central fact offered as proof is that, as a percentage of our total general fund budget, prison expenditures have sharply advanced while college expenditures have declined.

Let’s look at the raw figures: prisons have gone from 2 to 5 percent; colleges have dropped from 20 to 12 percent.

If we turned all the felons out on the street and spent 0 percent on corrections, we could move back up to 17 percent for colleges - not the 20 percent of their halcyon days.

One state senator says we are “dumbing down” because we are not appropriating enough for our colleges. The fact is that we are contributing the fifth-highest rate per capita in the nation. We have increased our higher edeucation budget every year, except one, in recent history. Our graduates are of excellent quality and can compete with anyone.

“Oh, but we’re robbing the students through tuition,” others say. The fact is that we have the fifth-lowest tuition in the United States. While Boise State University, from all funds, spends $15,000 per student per year, we charge the student $2,000. While the University of Idaho spends $30,000 per full-time-equivalent student, we charge that scholar $2,000.

One of your articles bemoaned the fact that a young female graduate was facing the world $30,000 in debt. She has my sympathy, but the state only charged her around $8,000 for enhancing her earning power.

Percentage changes in your general fund budget don’t prove much. We are sharing our revenue with local jurisdictions at a much higher rate in order to hold down property taxes. We are taking care of a burgeoning number of older Idahoans through Medicaid.

Prisons are taking too much of our money. I agree with the media on this, and I am leading an effort to pare this down. But let’s stick with the facts: we are not starving our colleges and universities.

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