SGA senators talk higher education with state legislators

February 23, 2016 — Frankfort, Kentucky — WKU’s SGA members listen to Representative and House Majority Whip Johnny Bell as they discuss about the governor’s proposed budget during the WKU’s SGA visit to the state delegates in Frankfort, Ky to discuss budget proposal that affect education.

Dustin Skipworth

The Student Government Association traveled to Frankfort early on Tuesday, Feb. 23, to meet and lobby with state legislators about budget cuts to higher education.

SGA President Jay Todd Richey was among the students who met with both Kentucky senators and Kentucky House representatives. He said he was pleased with how the lobbying efforts took place and how SGA performed.

“I’m extremely proud of everyone who was willing to come and participate in the meetings,” Richey said. “This is among the most important things an SGA member can do.”

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday, SGA decided to focus its lobbying on two issues affected by Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget proposal that could have a major effect on WKU students: 100 percent restoration of need-based funding and a reduction in the state funding cuts to higher education.

Student senators met with eight representatives over the course of the morning, including officials with close ties to Bowling Green and WKU. Many of the officials serve or have served on education committees that control funding and content for higher education.

One such representative, Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, met with SGA Tuesday morning to discuss budget implications.

Richards expressed some skepticism about the governor’s plans for need-based funding from lottery revenue.

“The governor continues to say he is not taking money from the lottery fund,” Richards said. “We don’t know exactly what that means.”

A total of $29.8 million in lottery funds have been shuffled away from need-based financial aid programs like College Access Program and Kentucky Tuition Grant over the past five years.

Bevin announced in late January that the funding would be held intact for the future but would go to workforce development scholarships. These scholarships would target fields of study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and support scientific research.

“Need-based financial aid is so important for Kentucky students,” Richards said.

Tuition and fees for students continue to increase while the rate of state grants for financial aid has steadily dropped since 2010.

Bevin’s proposed budget is worrying enough to send SGA to Frankfort, but the future isn’t written in stone. The Kentucky House and Senate still have to weigh in with their own versions of the budget proposal.

“It’s a process; I can tell you that much,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said in his meeting with SGA. “We are at the beginning of it.”

Wilson explained that the governor’s proposal might not be all bad.

“Companies are coming back to the U.S. and can’t find workers,” he said. “If they can’t find skilled workers, these companies will eventually go somewhere else.”

Wilson said that there were 950 jobs in this district that don’t have people to fill them because they lack the trained skills. However, he does hope to mitigate the impact the budget could have on universities.

The implications of the governor’s workforce scholarships are clear to SGA senator Hannah Neeper.

“I see the value in engineering jobs, and I see them contributing to society,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we should cut off all the other fields.”

The day’s meetings came to an end when both the Kentucky Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives recognized SGA in their respective meeting chambers.

Many SGA members expressed newfound hope after their meetings with state representatives. Others, like senator Josh Knight, expressed something else.

“The message I took away is that it’s going to be a tough fight,” Knight said.