Story by Ashley Traylor, Staff writer
Students gathered in the Curris Center on Jan. 27 for “Racers in Action Day,” an event hosted by the Student Government Association, or SGA, for students to reach out to Kentucky legislators about the future of higher education.
“We (Kentucky) are tied with West Virginia in dead last for reinvesting in our public universities with a negative one or two percent,” said SGA President Clint Combs. “It is pretty sad.”
Gov. Matt Bevin delivered his proposed budget speech on Tuesday, Jan. 26 in Frankfort, Kentucky. The proposed budget cuts university spending, along with other state agencies’ funds for a total of 9 percent over the next two years. Higher education will experience a $4.32 million cut.
SGA’s purpose behind “Racers in Action Day” was to inform students of the current budget cuts. This event also gave students an opportunity to write letters to Kentucky’s legislature “to show the state legislature that we have the power to affect what the state is going to do,” said Kenneth White, senior from Vista, California.
The state tightened the budget in 2007 during the beginning stages of the recession.
“They started cutting higher education money, which is a natural thing for states to go for because, unlike a lot of government administrations, this part of it can be reimbursed through tuition,” Combs said.
Murray State’s enrollment has steadily increased since 2007, but state funding has decreased by 20 percent, Combs said.
As a result, Murray State has proposed to increase their tuition in Fall 2016 for incoming students in order to compensate the underfunding, but also to make Murray State a more marketable university.
Murray State is known for their affordable tuition, but the cheap tuition prices do not imply dissatisfactory education.
“Bumping our tuition prices up a little bit is making us more on par with the market,” Combs said. “People will no longer associate us with being the cheap institution but the quality institution.”
The Board of Student Body President’s main lobbying goal was to restore the lottery funding, scholarships that go toward Kentucky’s most need-based students, Combs said.
Last year, the Kentucky Lottery provided $221 million, although $28 million was redirected to the general fund; therefore, 62,000 students were denied scholarships because there was no money left, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.
“We all need that money,” said Ty Minter, junior from Memphis, Tennessee. “Books are expensive, school is expensive, living is expensive, so the more money that we have, the more likely we are to return to college.”
Gov. Bevin announced in his speech that 100 percent of the Kentucky Lottery proceeds will go toward scholarships for students, not be redirected to state lawmakers to fund a different budget.
“That was one thing we were incredibly proud of, and Governor Bevin’s leadership in getting that lottery funding restored,” Combs said.
“Racers in Action” also informed students of the pension crisis in Kentucky. The Kentucky Teacher Retirement system is 40 cents per dollar underfunded, Combs said.
Teachers are paying into the retirement program, but there may not be any money when they retire. Gov. Bevin is working toward restoring the Kentucky Teacher Retirement system.
Combs said this is an issue that needs to be addressed. He hopes it does not take away from higher education funding because the more people who are educated, the more it sets the state up for long-term benefits.
“If we get that focus back on higher education, you’ll start to see less spending on public services, like Medicaid,” Combs said. “You’ll be spending less on the prison system. You’ll be receiving more tax dollars.”
Higher education can fix some terminal problems, but universities need the funding to continue retention.
Students sent 65 letters to representatives all over Kentucky on Jan. 27 for “Racers in Action Day.”
This was just one of three events SGA will be hosting. There will be two more “Racer in Action Days” held on Feb. 8 and Feb. 24. Students will be given another opportunity to write letters, emails, call their legislators and register to vote.
“We are students and a lot of people discount our power in the political arena,” Combs said. “But we are dedicated to our educational future and the future of Kentucky through higher education.”