IOWA CITY — After Iowa lawmakers fell $6 million shy of funding the Board of Regent’s full appropriations request for the current budget year, the board is re-upping its ask for an $18 million increase in general education support for the next fiscal term.
The board’s total fiscal 2021 state appropriations request — which regents will consider formalizing next week — is $642.4 million, including $511 million for general education support and $131.3 million for other purposes such as the board’s special schools, economic development and agricultural resources.
If ultimately approved in next year’s legislative session, the $18 million general fund increase would be split with $7 million going each to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University and $4 million going to University of Northern Iowa, according to documents released Tuesday.
That’s the same increase and split the board requested last year from lawmakers, who instead appropriated a $12 million increase that Iowa’s public universities divvied up evenly.
Because UNI received its full 2020 appropriations request of $4 million more, that campus froze tuition rates for all students this fall, and UNI President Mark Nook has said he wants to continue the freeze.
But because lawmakers came up $3 million short of the UI and ISU asks, those schools increase resident undergraduate tuition nearly 4 percent — and higher rates for other students — for this academic year.
Last year, the regents pledged to use the extra $18 million they wanted for student financial aid.
This year’s appeal would come with a different and broader promise.
“Additional resources will support efforts to shorten time to graduation, provide academic intervention for students who may be struggling, financial aid, close retention and graduation achievement gaps for underrepresented and first generation student populations, academic advising efforts, implement technology upgrades, etc.,” according to the board documents.
The request is an attempt to reverse a slide in state aid that has brought into question the public nature of the universities — with students and families now covering the majority of regent general education funding at about 65 percent through tuition. The reverse was true in 1981, when the state covered 77 percent of that regent fund and tuition contributed 21 percent.
In response to the board’s release of its appropriations request, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D- Iowa City, whose district includes the UI, said he views the request as a reasonable ask that will “help make our public universities a little more affordable for Iowa kids.”
In the last budget, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds supported the full ask but the Legislature, also controlled by Republicans, cut it a third.
The board also will ask lawmakers for an increase of $625,920 for its special schools and $2.9 million for economic development activities — specifically those supporting bioscience platforms identified as most likely to grow and diversify the state’s economy.
Those include biobased chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, vaccines and immunotherapies and medical devices.
Last year, the UI and ISU asked for $4 million in recurring state appropriations to work with the Iowa Economic Development Authority to create “an innovation ecosystem for the four Iowa bioscience platforms.” The state funded just $1.1 million beginning in the current budget year, and the new $2.9 million sought for fiscal 2021 covers the unfunded portion.
“The universities are confident that continued investment in these strategies will pay off for the State of Iowa,” the documents state.
For Iowa Public Radio — created by the board in 2004 to manage public radio stations licensed to the UI, ISU and UNI — the regents are requesting an additional $40,920 to restore cuts made in the 2018 budget year and bring its total state support to $391,568.
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The additional funding for “higher programming fees, utilities, facility costs, and other operating expenses,” comes after the regents in August unveiled plans to cut the universities’ support for IPR in the 2020 budget year by 7.5 percent — or $70,860.
IPR’s annual report, also made public Tuesday, shows the operation increased private support 6 percent in fiscal 2019 to $6.6 million.
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