Senate slices parts of U budget request

Coralie Carlson

University faculty, staff and low-income students took a blow in the Senate on Wednesday night.
The Senate Higher Education Budget Division cut nearly $10 million from the University’s supplemental budget request and approved a plan to give financial aid preferences to students from higher costing schools.
The committee, after four hours of deliberation Wednesday, gave only $10 million of the $19.5 million requested by the University in non-recurring funds for faculty and staff raises. Other provisions in University President Mark Yudof’s $41.5 million budget package were pared as part of the cutback as well.
One initiative cut, a clinical program for the Law School, roused debate during the hearing. Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, opposed eliminated funding for the clinic.
“Mr. Chairman, maybe it would be more appropriate if I talked about a digital law clinic program,” quipped Kelley, referring to Yudof’s emphasis on digital technology.
The University’s request for $22 million in recurring money to pay for classroom improvement and faculty equipment was approved in full. Recurring funds are provided on an annual basis.
“What’s good about this bill is the $22 million recurring and the recognition of many of the president’s initiatives,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, associate vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance.
The Senate majority leadership designated a target amount of $63.5 million for the omnibus Higher Education supplemental bill, which includes the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The Senate’s benchmark was $20 million less than what the House plans to allot.
MnSCU did not escape the Senate cuts either, losing $11.5 million.
Among the financial aid regulations in the omnibus legislation — a patchwork of many related bills — the committee included a plan to distribute $13.5 million in federal grant dollars to students.
Congress approved more federal money for the Pell award last year but without state approval that money is not passed on to students.
Under the Senate’s plan, developed by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, the state would increase grants to pay 53 percent of college costs for all eligible students instead of only half their expenses. Michael Wilhelmi, a committee staff member, said Stumpf would push to ease the burden even more in the future.
Although endorsed by the Higher Education Services Office, MnSCU students and the University’s Student Legislative Coalition oppose it. They argue it gives more money to students attending expensive schools instead of giving more money to low-income students, as the federal government intended.
On the upside, the bill lowers the minimum amount of credits to qualify as a part time student from eight to six. This eases eligibility requirements for work study funding and child care, so students can enroll in fewer classes and still qualify for these programs.