Unacceptable, squealed Iowa's elected class after administrators at two state universities sought tuition hikes of 40 percent over the next five years.
Gov. Kim Reynolds blasted the proposed hikes pushed by leadership at Iowa State University and University of Iowa.
OK. Go on.
You know what's unacceptable? Starving Iowa's educational system. That's unacceptable. Pushing even deeper tax cuts next year. That's unacceptable. Deriding university officials for trying to balance the books. That's unacceptable. Lacking the moral conviction to offer a solution. That's unacceptable. Forcing students to pay for incessant tax cuts for the wealthy. That's unacceptable.
Iowa's regents universities didn't create this mess. They're victims of a state that simply doesn't value education anymore. Or, at least, one that places it below tax cuts for big business on the list of priorities. In 2013, then Lt. Gov. Reynolds supported the largest tax cuts in state history, which are now directly responsible for incessant budgetary shortfalls.
Iowa's public, four-year universities have a core mission. They're supposed to be accessible to the vast majority of Iowans. They're supposed to offer both good value and strong programs for non-resident students. But the recent slash-and-burn approach in the Legislature and Governor's Mansion have threatened that mandate.
It should be no surprise that administrators from University of Iowa and Iowa State seek an influx of cash. They face spiking enrollment, which requires infrastructure, staff and support. They're grappling with a generation that took seriously society's promise for an affordable university education.
It's a pledge that Des Moines has no intention of keeping.
Perhaps the most striking information released at last week's Iowa Board of Regents was the paltry amount of state aid students at Iowa universities receive. Just 6 percent of total state spending on means-tested aid goes to students at one of Iowa's three regents universities, says Iowa Student Aid Commission. That's the worst rate in the country.
Universities, themselves, facing criticism over student debt, are left holding the bill. Total institutional undergraduate aid at University of Iowa, for example, exploded from $26 million in 2007 to more than $75 million in 2015, a nearly three-fold increase.
U of I President Bruce Herrald is a businessman, remember, not some patsy for faculty senate. That's why he got the job in 2015 over the protests of faculty and staff. And he's concluded that his institution is starving.
So, now, the U of I and ISU want to charge undergrads about $10,500 in base tuition by 2022, after a series of annual 7 percent hikes. That's steep. Non-residents would shell out a more than $30,000 a year. At some point, pricey private schools start looking like a bargain.
And yet, Reynolds has already mentioned her desire for more "tax reform" this coming session. In Republican circles, tax cuts might be good politics for both Reynolds and her allies in the Legislature. It's an election year, after all, and Reynolds has just one legislative cycle to cement her quasi-incumbency. But, as with the proposed tuition hike, someone else always pays.
Good politics and good policy aren't often one and the same. Recent tax cuts have already cost Iowa billions in revenue. They're the reason lawmakers keep dipping into reserves to pay the bills. They're the reason the immoral K-12 educational funding inequity wasn't fixed last year. They're the reason state parks are understaffed.
They're the reason Iowa can't follow through in its promise to students that a four-year education would be both attainable and respected. Neither is true.
It's time athletic departments start sharing the wealth of those massive television contracts. It's time Reynolds and Republican lawmakers get serious about adequately funding education.
And it's time to be honest and admit that another round of tax cuts would only make things worse.