House Republicans propose tuition freeze, no budget increase for public universities

By: - April 8, 2021 5:45 pm

The Old Capitol building on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. (Photo courtesy of University of Iowa)

Iowa’s public universities would see a tuition freeze and no state allocation increase in 2022 under a proposed House education budget.

Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, said COVID-19 relief funds had provided millions of additional dollars to the schools. That, plus a declining enrollment, led to the decision to keep funding levels the same in fiscal year 2022 and continue a freeze on tuition and fees.

“I believe that this is very adequate for this year because of all the COVID (money). I really do,” Kerr said. “Next year, we’ll have to reassess the whole thing.”

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, responded that some of the COVID-19 grant money would go toward new expenses, like updating technology for online classes.

“These federal monies come back as a way to help equalize the playing field, to bring back some of those losses that they may have had,” she said.

The House’s proposal allocates less to the Board of Regents than Gov. Kim Reynolds, who recommended a $17 million increase. Senate Republicans have released only an outline of their budget proposals. Their plan included an additional $25 million for higher education, including more funds for the Last-Dollar Scholarship program, but they have not specified how much would go to Regents universities.

The Board of Regents requested a nearly $30 million increase for fiscal year 2022.

Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, told reporters Thursday that the tuition freeze and conservative budget proposal was in the hopes of reining in university spending.

“We have seen over the last 10 years a 25% increase at our regents institutions and in return there’s been a 3% increase in students,” Grassley said. 

Grassley: Budget may reflect freedom of speech concerns

In Thursday’s subcommittee meeting, Cahill asked Kerr whether the decision not to increase university funding was tied to other House bills that targeted cancel culture and free speech on college campuses. Lawmakers this session have passed bills to require First Amendment training and forbid certain divisive concepts surrounding race or sex. Leaders from Regents universities also met with representatives to discuss various First Amendment problems within their student bodies.

“In any way, can this be construed as any retaliation to the regents for what has been perceived as faults that they have not been attentive to?” Cahill asked.

Kerr responded that different Republican lawmakers have “various reasons” for proposing or supporting legislation.

“Regents have had issues on various subjects. But, you know, I believe the Regents are taking some steps in the right direction,” he said. “And then next year we can see how the progress is going there too.”

Grassley said freedom of speech concerns may have factored into the decision.

“It is our responsibility as a Legislature to make sure those funds are being used wisely. That may play into it,” he said. “But honestly, it’s just the cost of providing that education has just become very bloated.”

Democratic leaders condemned the funding proposal in a Thursday morning call with reporters. Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the decision not to increase Regents funding was “a political point.”

“That has not been much of an issue in the Senate this year, so my hope would be that cooler heads prevail in the Senate education budget sub,” Wahls told reporters.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.