Government

Iowa House speaker rips University of Iowa scholarship cuts

Linda Upmeyer: 'Politics at its worst' is 'very disappointing'

Speaker of the House Linda L. Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake
Speaker of the House Linda L. Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake

A day after the University of Iowa began notifying 2,440 students they won’t get scholarship money they expected this fall due to state budget cuts, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer slammed the move Thursday as “politics at its worst” and suggested the UI tap into the $2 billion its foundation collected in a fundraising campaign.

“It’s very disappointing that the University of Iowa is choosing to play politics with scholarships and the lives of parents and students,” Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, UI President Bruce Harreld told lawmakers his institution is cutting several non-merit and non-need-based scholarship programs in response to an $8 million takeback in state appropriations in the current budget year.

That means student recipients of the eliminated programs — like the Iowa Heritage Award that gives aid to students with a parent or guardian who is an alumni — won’t get money they expected next school year.

Dropping the scholarships — which could affect the recipients beyond next year — is expected to save the university $4.3 million.

But Upmeyer questioned the need to yank the aid, referring to an earlier comment from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter that state universities “would be able to make reductions, based on the governor’s budget recommendation, with minimal impact on students.”

That comment came after Gov. Terry Branstad proposed taking back $25.5 million from the regent universities. But lawmakers “softened those reductions further,” Upmeyer said.

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In December, the Legislature agreed to cut $18 million from the base of state funds allocated to universities — $8 million each from the UI and Iowa State University and $2 million from University of Northern Iowa.

Those cuts, which are part of a larger statewide de-appropriation due to a budget shortfall, are expected to persist past this budget year because they pull from the base of annual allocations.

But Upmeyer seemed to believe otherwise, saying: “These cuts to financial aid scholarships are for next school year, and the Legislature hasn’t even appropriated money to the regents yet.”

Lawmakers still are considering the regents’ request for a 2 percent increase in state support for the next budget year. Even if approved, that wouldn’t make up for the $18 million hit.

Now Rastetter said he’d like to know if the Legislature intends to restore this year’s cuts.

“Unless I’m misinterpreting Speaker Upmeyer, to add back in that $8 million that just got cut, we have to assume that’s a permanent cut,” Rastetter said. “We’ll try and clarify that with her, and hopefully that means that they don’t plan on it being a permanent cut.”

Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said Democrats were “ready, willing and able” to vote on increased funding to help the UI. But he also called on the university to reconsider — if it can.

“This is really bad. I have already communicated with the University of Iowa that if there’s any way they can avoid doing this, they should do that,” Hogg said. “But I’m imploring this body and this Legislature to act.”

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Upmeyer indicated a place to look for the money is the UI’s recent historic fundraising campaign, which took in nearly $2 billion.

“Surely some of that money could have been used to make up the difference,” she said.

Harreld has said that even though the UI brings in major donations through its foundation, that money is restricted by donor intent on how it can be used.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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