Tuesday, July 14, 2009

HB 1, Budget Bill Finds Light at End of Tunnel

After two, week-long extensions, and a recently passed and signed third, the House (54-44 vote) and Senate (17-15 vote) finally passed the state budget bill and were able to zip it through both chambers in one day. This bill has been one of the most partisan budgets seen by many around Cap Square and as details are released and deciphered it is sure to only get worse.

AICUO staff spent yesterday afternoon sifting through the released materials (comparison docs, line item spreadsheets) to find any surprises that may have been hidden within the bill - none were readily evident as we had been discussing the provisions with OBR staff and legislative offices over the last few weeks or more. But one item did throw us off a bit. Ohio College Access Network (OCAN) has been zeroed out within this budget. To publicly say that access to college is a major issue that Ohio needs to grasp then to cut the program completely is beyond us. Although we know cuts were needed, this one seems a little contradictory to the message we need to send as a state.

Some major items with direct relation to independent colleges that we found within the budget are as follows:

Student Choice Grant - GONE, completely. This is an issue we tried to advocate against, at least the repeal of the line-item. AICUO felt that leaving the implementation language, even with it zeroed out, would be beneficial. Who knows, we may need to come back to this program in the future. Why start from scratch?

Choose Ohio First - received a planned increase. This program, which now allows independent colleges to compete for grants on the same level playing field as public campuses, is intended to increase the number of STEM students in Ohio. Since we graduate a disproportionate amount of theses grads, we are very pleased with this outcome.

Teach Ohio - Governor Strickland's program that will allow smaller teacher-education courses, and mandate closer relationships and partnerships with local school districts and their local institutions of higher learning. The program has $2.5 million allocated to it.

OCOG - THE need-based aid program for Ohio's college students. This program is the life-blood for low income students that have "need" as defined by the Board of Regents' formula and it has been slashed in total funding by 91.2 million over the biennium. This is a near devastating blow to our needy students in Ohio. This cut is a contradictory position for the legislature and Governor to take on this issue - federal stimulus dollars could have been added and helped increase the number of students in Ohio that receive aid, but that money went to the public institutions' State Share of Instruction - all $618.7 million... (of the $171 million in this line item, $82 million is allocated for Independent Colleges)

Although, from a legislative standpoint, the budget process is close to its end point — the governor could line-item veto parts of this bill and the legislature could try to override these — things remain very much in flux at this point. As the dust settles and the language is released in full we will know how all of the new programs and mandates will affect us more directly. Keep an eye on the newspapers and here on the blog for additional information.

--Dustin A. Holfinger