Friday, January 9, 2009

Past higher education cuts reviewed, K-12 issues discussed

Yesterday at the Capitol

Higher education systems discuss consequences of cuts with the Senate

The Senate Higher Education committee heard from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system yesterday about the consequences the 2003 budget cuts had on the state's higher education systems. The committee also heard about the current fiscal year 2009 $20 million unallotment to each system and the thoughts each system has for handling any cuts in the future as a result of the state's $4.8 billion budget shortfall.

University of Minnesota Vice President Richard Pfutzenreuter told committee members that the challenge of cuts in 2003 was met by double-digit tuition increases, which accounted for 46 percent of the reduction. He said faculty and staff assumed more costs associated with health care, lower salary increases and unfilled positions to account for 15 percent of the reduction.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Vice Chancellor and CFO Laura King, said the reductions resulting from the 2003 Legislative Session included tuition increases, reductions in administration, reductions in instruction related services and reductions in reserves. King said increases in tuition was the primary tool used to address the reductions with 14 percent increases in both FY 2004 and 2005.

As lawmakers look to balance the budget for the upcoming 2010-2011 biennium, King said the system will use all the options available in a budget reduction environment, but will make decisions in a way that best serves students, takes into account the system's mission to serve the economic development needs of the state and best positions the system for long-term financial viability.

King ended her testimony emphasizing the important role higher education plays in educating and retraining Minnesota’s workforce during this severe economic downturn. Kind said, "Our system of 32 colleges and universities is the key to economic recovery. Our institutions will be the ones that help dislocated workers get back on their feet, retrained for new jobs. Our institutions are the ones that provide short-term retraining certificate and diploma programs that can help newly unemployed residents retrain for new jobs."

President Ann Wynia, North Hennepin Community College, provided testimony with Laura King on what campuses did in 2003 to handle budget cuts and what they're currently doing in light of the recent unallotment. President Wynia spoke of a 28 percent tuition increase at her campus over the 2004-2005 biennium, along with layoffs, leaving positions open, reclassifying positions and reducing spending on technology.

Also testifying yesterday was Jennifer Weil, Vice Chair of MSUSA. Jennifer spoke of the large tuition increases in prior years due to the magnitude of cuts in 2003 which resulted in large student debt loads. Weil also pointed out the importance of higher education in times of economic hardship, and said that higher education should be an investment.

The committee also heard from State Demographer Tom Gillaspy who said economic growth depends on the product of higher education and that shortages in critical occupations can only be relieved by training and educating Minnesotans or importing workers from other areas.

K-12 committee members discuss policy issues facing Minnesota schools

Members of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee shared their views yesterday on the most important policy issues facing Minnesota schools. Priorities include closing the achievement gap, eliminating ineffective mandates and standards that cost districts a lot to implement, promoting academic rigor and teacher professionalism.

They also raised concerns about school tax levies. Rep. John Benson, DFL-Minnetonka, said he would like to "see an end to school districts having to run operating levies." Rep Connie Doepke, R-Orono, would like to lift levy caps.

Committee Chair Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said upcoming hearings will focus on key policy issues, such as the Department of Education’s new evaluation model of assessing student achievement year-to-year, problems with graduation standards testing, and the achievement gap and outcome issues.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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