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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

ISU, L-C students sue board over increases in fees

Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE – Students at Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College are suing the State Board of Education, claiming Idaho may be illegally charging tuition for its public schools.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in 6th District Court in Pocatello, asks that the court take over authority for administering so-called student fees and stop any further fee increases unless they are approved by a judge.

State law prohibits public schools from charging residents tuition. But in 1986, lawmakers defined tuition as only the cost of instruction at colleges and universities – leaving the state free to charge fees for school maintenance, student services, institutional support and other costs that go along with running a university.

“Since the passing of that bill our student fees have risen 165 percent,” said Idaho State University student body president Terry Fredrickson. “The State Board of Education has been playing this shell game for quite a while. After 15 straight years of unchecked student fee increases, we’re left with no other recourse.”

But members of the state board say they’re already dealing with the problem.

They plan to ask lawmakers to change state law to allow colleges and universities such as ISU, L-C State and Boise State University to charge tuition.

“The board has asked us to develop some legislation to make statutory changes that will correct the problem of the confusion over how student fees are used,” said board director Gary Stivers. “It will actually allow schools to charge tuition.”

The draft legislation will be presented at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting, said spokeswoman Luci Willits.

Any statutory change allowing some of Idaho’s colleges and universities to charge tuition wouldn’t affect the University of Idaho, whose charter is anchored in the Idaho Constitution. As a result, charging tuition at UI would require a vote of Idaho residents, according to education board member Paul Agidius.

“The University of Idaho existed prior to Idaho becoming a state, and it was recognized by the constitution,” Agidius said. “The others were established by the legislature, so it has more control over them.”

Student fees account for about a third of the basic operating budget for the schools while state support makes up the rest. That combined budget, which totaled about $330 million in 2004, is augmented by grants, contracts and other financial arrangements the schools pursue individually.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know why we call this public education anymore,” Fredrickson said. “Perhaps we should rename ourselves Idaho Student University.”

Not all higher-education students in the state are joining in the lawsuit. Students at the University of Idaho in Moscow say they aren’t interested in suing the state, saying that could hamper efforts to negotiate with officials.

“We feel it’s in the best interest of students and our institution to work with the state board in setting student fees that enhance our education and experience while being specific to our university,” said Autumn Hansen, UI’s student body president.