Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Fight Against HB 2675 (The Minimum Contribution Bill) Continues -- Tuition Increases -- Kavanagh -- Protect Education!

As mentioned in a previous post, I had the honor's of attending the appropriations committee where the HB 2675 Minimum Tuition Contribution Bill was heard. It was exciting to see politics in action, and as a student, I was very concerned about the outcome of this debate.

Ultimately, the bill was passed in the committee, and it will soon be heard on the floor. Despite huge efforts put forth by students, showing strict opposition to the bill, the legislatures in the appropriations committee felt it necessary to pass this legislation forward for further consideration.

Some of the issues brought up in the committee by representatives such as Rep. Campbell who spoke very strongly against this bill was that Arizona is already provides some of the lowest financial aid. In terms of the country, including D.C. and Puerto Rico, Arizona is 51 out of 52 states in terms of financial aid offered.

Rep. Campbell kept reiterating that he fails to see the point of this legislation. Nobody was asking for it. Nobody was in support of it. And it certainly wasn't going to fix anything.

Amendment after amendment was proposed for HB 2675 after new issues were brought up, desperately trying to save the bill, including an amendment proposed by Representative and Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Kavanagh which was ultimately passed with the bill to include loans as a means of meeting the $2000 student contribution toward tuition, but ultimately, no other amendments were voted in favor, including one amendment which included veterans as an exemption for the $2000 contribution proposed and strongly argued for by Rep. Heinz.

He argued that we have to acknowledge the duty that veterans have done for our country and make education accessible for them. And truly, it is only fair that we do. After spending years in dedicated service and hard work for our country's national defense, risking their lives and enduring tough training, it is only right that we allow them to take advantage of every financial opportunity afforded to them by the government, including the G.I. Bill.

Kavanagh argued against this amendment saying that he knows plenty of vets who are extremely wealthy, and that they shouldn't be automatically granted exemption. He also argued that the amendment was poorly planned out and needed further discussion before being approved.

Truly, what he said is true to some extent. Having done Model United Nations for several years now and being a political science student, I can fully understand how extensive discussion on legislation is proper and completely in order. However, the way the amendment was framed was straight-forward and didn't need much discussion at all in my opinion. It even used the language of "Honorably Discharged" when referring to vets that have been discharged from service, ensuring that any ex-army personnel would only be granted exemption if they were discharged in good-standing with the military such as in the result of an injury that ultimately makes continued service impossible.

Furthermore, if the amendment was approved, it would likely be tweaked, altered, and further amended before ever being passed as law, and having the amendment on the bill would bring veteran exemption into the discussion on the house floor which is now likely to be neglected as a main topic of discussion.

Student leaders and representatives also came under fire by the hot-headed Rep. Ugenti who kept saying things like "that's life" and asking how it's the state's responsibility to ensure that students have adequate transportation.

As a student, I am very concerned about this bill. With the new amendment, I will not be personally affected because I take out upwards of $7,500 in student loans every year just to meet the financial requirements to attend college, and still having several expenses to pay out of pocket afterwards. So I am not concerned for myself so much as I am concerned for the institution of education and for my fellow students. It is sad to see that the state has taken such a hostile stance towards education, and I don't believe that this legislation will really have any positive effect on education at all.

Rather, instead it will push students away. It will impose another unnecessary barrier between students and education. It will deter future students from ever attending college, especially with the large increases in tuition which are largely the result of poor financial planning on the states behalf which led to delayed funds that the university was counting on.

Meanwhile, as Dr. Crow has said in several conferences, Arizona State University, as a large and growing university which truly believes in making a good education affordable, had actually planned ahead and established funds to help cushion students from exactly this kind of financial crisis. As a result, the university was able to decrease the negative effects of the lack of state funding on the university, but ultimately, the funds were depleted within the first two years, leaving students to pay nearly twice the tuition they were less than 3 years ago.

This turn of events is outrageous, and education in Arizona is now less affordable than it has ever been. Students are facing a crisis where tuition and the total cost of attendance continues to increase, while the state continues to cut back funding and continues to impose unnecessary barriers to higher education which will ultimately have detrimental effects on Arizona's economy and future work force.

Businesses are going to begin fleeing Arizona, and with it, Arizona residence will leave with them, seeking jobs elsewhere where education is valued and jobs are flourishing as a result. Phoenix, which is now considered one of the fastest growing cities in the nation will ultimately fail if policies like this continue to go through.

The real implications of this bill is that it will open doors for more malicious bills that hurt Arizona's education. Despite the extraordinary efforts of universities like ASU to keep tuition rates low through countless efforts including the fact that for the fourth year in a row, says Dr. Crow, the ASU staff will not receive salary increases, Arizona education will continue to struggle to advance in the ways in needs to be beneficial to students, Arizona, and the national as a whole.

Therefore, it is time to do something about it. It is time to organize and use our numbers as our ammo in shooting down this bill and sending a message to legislatures that Arizona values education. It is important for everyone, not just students, but people who employ students, people who are parents of students, friends of students, or people who just think that education should be affordable and accessible and believe in the American dream of advancing one's own socio-economic situation through hard work and dedication.

Students are apathetic or disengaged with education. Students are more dedicated to education than ever before. Almost every student I know on campus (which is several hundred) is involved in some kind of club or organization, truly cares about their education, and works hard every week to secure their future and goals.

Send an email to your legislature. Send a letter to your local newspapers. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Talk to everyone you know about this bill and tell them to talk to their legislatures. It only takes a minute. It's really easy to look up your representatives email and send them an email. It takes less than 5 minutes, and so far this semester, I have done it several times.

I am fired up about this bill, and you should be too. And even if you're not going to join my fight to protect Arizona's education, I will continue to fight and find those who are ready to make a difference in their community. I won't let small losses like the passing of the bill in the Appropriations Committee slow me down. I will continue to fight it on the House floor. I will fight it in the Arizona Senate committees. And on the floor of the Senate. I will fight it if it makes it to the Joint Committee. And if it passes there, I will march to the governors office with thousands of students by my side to let her know that we do not support this bill.

It is only by strength in numbers that we will kill this bill. We don't have much else, but the strength of numbers is more powerful than money ever will be. We will make legislatures see that Arizona cares about education, and we will show them that students ARE engaged and are NOT apathetic!


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