Child-care grant cuts impact students

Twenty fall semester recipients will lose the grant spring semester.

Kari Petrie

University junior Shelley Guthrie isn’t just a busy student, she’s also a working mother.

A part-time employee at the University’s Student Parent HELP Center, Guthrie is raising her 2-year-old daughter, Amirah, while completing a double major in psychology and sociology.

But a cut in Minnesota’s postsecondary

child-care funding last fall might significantly alter the lives of Guthrie and other University student-parents.

In January, Guthrie and 20 other University student-parents did not receive state postsecondary child-care grants for spring semester after getting funding for the fall.

Guthrie fears those same cuts could eliminate her $9 per hour job at the Student Parent HELP Center. The HELP Center is a resource center for student-parents and also distributes child-care grants to University students.

“Everything that could go wrong is going wrong,” Guthrie said.

Last spring, the Legislature shifted $3.6 million allotted for child-care grants, as well as the entire $12.4 million work-study grant budget, to cover for a $16 million state higher education grant shortfall.

The child-care grant program was left with $1.1 million for the 2002-03 school year, while the state’s work-study program was eliminated. State officials said the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office underestimated the amount of funding needed for the grants.

Phil Lewenstein, spokesman for the Higher Education Services Office – an agency that distributes higher education grants to Minnesota students – said the organization decided to leave some money for child-care grants because the program serves a lower-income population like student-parents.

“It wasn’t a pleasant choice,” he said.

The child-care grant reduction left the University with $30,000 for

child-care grants, nearly $220,000 short of its grant request, said HELP Center coordinator Susan Warfield.

“It has been huge,” Warfield said of the lack of funds.

According to the Higher Education Services Office Web site, approximately 2,500 students state-wide received child-care grants last year, including 82 University students.

Lewenstein said official numbers for this year will not be available until the end of the school year, but he speculated that approximately 560 students will receive grants.

The funding covered only fall semester, Warfield said, leaving many students looking for help this semester. Currently, approximately 72 students are on a waiting list for affordable child care.

“We are hearing students say they are in a big enough panic that they may have to leave the ‘U,’ ” Warfield said.

Guthrie said she is worried she will be one of those students.

“Without the child-care grant, I probably wouldn’t be able to continue school, and I should be able to graduate next year,” Guthrie said.

Minnesota State College Student Association Vice President Derek Hudyma said his organization has heard from several students who said they cannot go back to school or must go part time because of the child-care cuts.

“They can’t afford to pay (for school) without the help of the state child care,” said Hudyma, whose organization represents the state’s two-year college student community.

Hudyma, along with representatives from the Minnesota State University Student Association – which represents students from the state’s seven four-year universities – testified before a Legislative higher education committee two weeks ago. They asked lawmakers to spare higher education funding from further cuts during upcoming state budget deliberations.

Warfield said the center was given supplemental funding from the president’s and provost’s offices, but that money is nonrenewable.

The center also receives private donations, but one of their main contributors – Virginia Binger – recently passed away, leaving the funding in question, Guthrie said.

Last week, the center sent applications to students for child-care awards for this semester. Center officials said they expect awards to be distributed in March.

“It’s really tough to watch the center I’ve grown up with at the ‘U’ fall apart,” Guthrie said.

Kari Petrie welcomes comments at [email protected]