Wednesday, February 22, 2012

House Democrats blast bill to make university education more expensive

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were outraged by a plan put forth by Tea Party lawmakers to make university education more expensive for students and were equally outraged by the rejection of an amendment to exempt veterans and active duty service members from the mandatory $2000 tuition payment.

“At a time when we should be removing barriers to higher education, the Tea Party extremists are putting up more barriers instead," said House Minority Leader and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix (District 14). "This bill limits students’ ability to pursue higher education and hurts Arizona’s ability to compete in today’s global economy.”

House Bill 2675, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills (District 8) would require all students at Arizona’s universities to pay at least $2000 in tuition, even if that student earned scholarships or financial aid that would otherwise pay that cost. The bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee today with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill except Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert (District 22), and Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson (District 26) who voted with Democrats against the measure.

“Veterans are coming home to the toughest job market in decades. The unemployment rate for veterans is 11.5%,” said Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson (District 29), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who offered an amendment to exempt veterans and active duty service members from the bill’s mandatory $2000 tuition payment. The amendment failed along a party-line, roll call vote with Democrats supporting it and Republicans voting against it.

“This bill saddles veterans with additional financial barriers to gaining the skills they need to compete in the workforce,” Heinz said.

“It alarms me that one of my Republican colleagues would make the statement in committee that veterans don’t deserve a free education just because they are veterans. Those who serve our country deserve that and more in thanks for their service. The fact that Republicans voted down my amendment to exempt veterans from this bill is unjust and immoral,” Heinz said.

“This bill only makes things worse for middle class families who are already struggling with the rising tuition costs that came as a result of record budget cuts to our schools and universities,” said House Minority Whip Anna Tovar, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee.

“Mr. Kavanagh may think $20,000 in student loan debt is not unreasonable, but that just shows you how out-of-touch Kavanagh and all the Tea Party legislators are with the middle-class,” Campbell said, referring to a comment the bill’s sponsor made in the House Appropriations Committee meeting today.

“The problem is tuition hikes—the cost of a higher education is crippling students and their families—and this bill only makes that problem worse,” said Heinz, who relayed his own story of working to pay off more that $100,000 in student debt himself.

“Requiring students to pay $2000 is an unnecessary financial road block to the economic opportunities that obtaining a higher education affords,” said Tovar. “This bill will make students think twice about applying to attend a university or transfer to a university from community college to complete their education.”

House Democrats pointed out that even those students that do not pay tuition because of financial aid or scholarships usually do not have a “free ride” and there are many other costs for students than just tuition, including living expenses, transportation, books and mandatory university fees.

“Giving students the extra price tag of $2000 will only be a detriment to them and our economy. We’re trying to prepare students to compete for jobs and improve our state’s economy," said Tovar. "Making it more difficult to afford a university education flies in the face of those goals.”

House Democrats were also outraged by what they felt was “badgering” of students who came to testify against the bill in today’s House Appropriations Committee meeting by some committee members.

“Making students who came to testify on a bill account for and justify their own personal financial aid awards and scholarships is completely out of line,” said Campbell. “The arrogance of some lawmakers is outstanding. These students are citizens who have valid concerns with this bill and they should be treated with respect.”

Video of the committee hearing, showing students who testified against the bill being greeted by what Heinz described as “open hostility” by certain committee members will be available at http://azleg.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=13.

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