A new version of the state higher education funding bill presented in the House of Representatives on Tuesday seeks to cut $306 million statewide, including $161.9 million from the University of Minnesota, leaving many in higher education worried.
“In our opinion it’s not a good bill for higher education,” University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said of the bill that would reduce the school’s funding by 13 percent from last biennium’s appropriation, rolling it back to 1998 levels.
It would mean a salary freeze next year and no new faculty or staff hires, Pfutzenreuter said.
The House higher education bill is one of several circulating in the Capitol as legislators grapple with a $5 billion budget deficit. It would provide about $70 million less in annual funding for the University than a budget proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton but about $7 million more than a similar bill being considered in the Senate.
The bill was presented in the House Higher Education and Finance Policy Committee during a marathon session Tuesday, with students, faculty and administrators from the state’s schools parading through and warning about the negative impacts of the bill.
“Not only is this bill devastating for students, it’s devastating for students’ families and people who work at the University,” said sophomore and Minnesota Student Association political director Thomas Trehus.
Committee chairman Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said the bill was designed to protect students with increases in financial aid and limits on tuition increases. The Minnesota State Grant program, which provides aid to thousands of Minnesota residents, was the only area to see an increase in funding.
Nornes conceded that the bill would be the largest cut to higher education in more than a decade but said cuts are needed to create a sustainable budget so that future funding increases will be possible.
“The goal is to try and do no harm,” he said. “It’s a big challenge to maintain the system and help students.”
There are still many steps before any budget bill is finalized, including approval from the House and Senate, a conference committee and the governor, Nornes said, and it’s too early to predict what a final version might look like.
Sociology professor Elizabeth Boyle testified before the committee and provided an inside look at the effect of the cuts on the University.
Class sizes are increasing, and fewer sections are being offered, she said, in part because there isn’t enough money to replace faculty and staff when they leave.
“It’s a really unfortunate thing when you’re thinking about the quality of education,” she said.
Students are having more trouble getting into the classes that they need in order to graduate, Boyle said, and with less staff support the University’s research efforts are also suffering.
DFL members of the committee objected to the cuts in the bill and criticized Nornes for not working more closely with Dayton on the higher education budget.
“I don’t see any protection for students in this bill,” Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said. “This is not a good budget. It’s not even a fair budget. It’s a terrible cut.”
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