Arizona’s $2K minimum university tuition legislation dead - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Arizona’s $2K minimum university tuition legislation dead

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2012 2:49 pm | Updated: 10:33 am, Sat Mar 10, 2012.

Students at the state’s three universities are no longer in danger of having to come up with some out-of-pocket cash to attend classes.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said Friday he has pulled the plug on his legislation which would have required most students to pay at least $2,000 toward their annual tuition. Kavanagh had argued the measure would ensure students have some “skin in the game,” making it more likely they would take their education seriously.

But he concluded there is no way now — and probably ever — he can get the votes for the plan.

“The misinformation became so toxic that the controversy boiled over, making it impossible for members to consider it,” he told Capitol Media Services. “So I just dropped it.”

Kavanagh said that “misinformation” included claims that it would force veterans who now can be eligible for federal grants to give them up in part to meet that $2,000 threshold. Kavanagh said the legislation would have created an exemption for them, as well as for students who, because they do not live near a school, have the additional expense of room and board.

Those concerns bubbled over after the legislation was approved by the House Appropriations Committee, he said, and reached the point where his legislative colleagues were being bombarded with calls and e-mails, to the point that they were no longer willing to support the legislation. That left him without sufficient votes to bring HB 2675.

Kavanagh said the issue is dead, not only for this year but probably permanently.

He said, though, the issue remains of whether the tuition system is fair.

Kavanagh’s legislation is a direct outgrowth of comments last year by Arizona State University President Michael Crow who told lawmakers that half of students at his school had no out-of-pocket expenses for tuition.

The Board of Regents put that figure system-wide for the 2009-2010 school year at 45 percent; last year it was 36 percent.

But regents’ lobbyist Christine Thompson said the number are “an anomoly,” with preliminary figures for this year -- at least at ASU -- to be in the 24 percent range. Anyway, she said, the students getting a free ride are, as a whole, not being subsidized by the state but are supplementing their scholarships with federal Pell grants.

Kavanagh said, though, that ignores the other problem he wants to address: some students subsidizing others.

Written policy of the Board of Regents requires that at least 14 percent of what students pay in tuition be set aside for need-based financial aid. But the regents have currently set that figure at 17 percent.

“It’s the middle and upper-income students who pay full or almost full tuition, part of which is being diverted for the more needy students,” Kavanagh said.

“My bill allowed 80 percent subsidy,” he explained.

“I just wanted the last 20 percent to be the responsibility of the student, regardless of the student’s financial status,” Kavanagh continued. “But apparently that was too much to ask in the minds of many people.”

While Kavanagh had crafted exceptions, many of those who objected said they were too narrow.

For example, while his legislation would have exempted students paying room and board to a university, it would not have granted similar treatment to those who live on their own and have expenses for rent and food. And the proposal did not consider other special costs that students might have, like child care.

The Arizona Constitution does require instruction to be “as nearly free as possible.” But the state Supreme Court refused to intercede in a tuition hike challenge in 2007, ruling that courts have no role in determining exactly what that means.

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