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DES MOINES — House Republicans plan to freeze funding for regents universities, but said Monday they will have “plenty of money” because of infusions from federal COVID-19 relief and stimulus programs.
On a party-line vote, the House Appropriations Committee passed a $970 million higher education budget that includes a $24 million increase from the current year. None of the increase would go to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University or University of Northern Iowa in an attempt to rein in what House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, last week called “bloated” budgets.
In addition to maintaining a budget that was reduced by $8 million last year, the House GOP plan also calls for a freeze on tuition and fees at the universities.
House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, said that on top of $485 million in state funding the regents have or will receive $240 million from the COVID-19 relief packages approved by Congress under the Trump and Biden administrations.
In addition to being able to use the federal dollars to invest in technology and for pandemic-related costs, he said, the universities can use the funds to make up for lost revenue, including losses from lower enrollment.
“So I don’t think they will have to cut people or programs,” Kerr said.
The cost of higher education “has just become very bloated,” Grassley said when asked about the proposed budget. According to his numbers, full-time equivalent positions in the regents’ system have increased 25 percent over the past decade while enrollment grew by 3 percent. He attributed the growth to increases in administrative hiring.
Employee numbers have increased because of growth at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said.
By relying on the federal dollars, Winckler said, Republicans are calling for using one-time funding for ongoing expenses — something the party has railed against for years.
“Almost 70 percent of (the universities’) revenue comes from tuition and fees, and we’ve now said it has to be status quo,” she said. “We have frozen 100 percent of their budget and their ability to fund the ongoing costs.
“Who pays for that potentially are students and families in reduced access to coursework and the inability to have the best professors, in scheduling that is impossible to meet,” Winckler said.
The House GOP plan likely will not be the final word on regents’ funding, Kerr said. Gov. Kim Reynolds called for $15 million for each of the next two fiscal years, and Senate majority Republicans have proposed an $8 million hike. The regents asked for $30 million.
“I’m looking forward to negotiating with the Senate. It will be changed a little, I’m sure,” Kerr told the committee.
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