SGA rallies against higher education cuts

Ashlee Clark

FRANKFORT – Kristina O’Brien is a non-traditional student and a working mother.

O’Brien, who is also Eastern Kentucky University’s student body president, said she is worried about her children’s future. If higher education funding is cut, the quality of future professionals, who will care for and educate her children, could be affected, she said.

“Who will they call upon in the public and private sectors if they make higher education unaffordable?” O’Brien shouted from the second floor balcony of the Capitol’s rotunda during Thursday’s rally in Frankfort.

Western’s Student Government Association and about 300 other students from the eight public universities in the state rallied against the $64 million budget cuts to Kentucky’s higher education.

The Board of Student Body Presidents began talking about the rally last semester, but didn’t complete plans until two weeks before the rally, said SGA President John Bradley.

Bradley said it would have been nice to have more bipartisan support, but the rally was a success.

“These students who were at the rally were really involved and care about what happened,” he said. “These people are passionate.”

Nick Todd, SGA vice president of finance, said about 12 people from Western went to Frankfort.

Jason Keller, deputy press secretary for the governor, said he thinks the rally was very positive.

“The students were here to voice their concerns,” he said. “It’s part of the democratic system we live in and we would welcome them at any time.”

Chris Ryan, a freshman at Morehead State University, said he goes to school on a GI Bill and is barely able to afford tuition.

He said it is good that students are rallying in opposition to the budget cuts.

“They’re not going to stop us until we get what we want,” Ryan said.

Some students openly displayed their disappointment with the budget during the rally.

Amy Noe, a student from Southeast Community College in Pineville, held up a sign reading “Thou Shalt Not Steal” while students began filling the space in the center of the rotunda.

“They’re raising our tuition,” Noe said. “That’s more out of our pocket.”

Some people working in the Capitol paused at the outskirts of the crowd, looking on as students entered the rotunda.

The rally participants greeted O’Brien and other student body presidents with cheers and applause as they talked about the effects of cuts on higher education.

“Governor Fletcher, if you’re out there, every dollar you don’t invest in our future today will be millions of dollars we’ll lose in our future tomorrow,” said Chris Pace, Northern Kentucky University’s SGA president and chair of the Board of Student Body Presidents.

Some legislators briefly addressed the students at the rally.

“This is democracy’s voice at work,” said Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard.

At times, democracy’s voice grew too loud for legislators.

As “two, four, six, eight, don’t raise tuition rates” and other chants echoed through the halls of the Capitol, the rally participants received two warnings about the noise level.

State police and other security personnel were on hand for the rally as a “precautionary measure.” Keller said.

Stephanie Hellman, a freshman from NKU, said she thinks the students’ message to legislators will be heard.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get everything that we want, but they’ll know the problem,” she said.

President Gary Ransdell said students should be just as enthusiastic with follow-up letters and phone calls since the legislators were not “hearing, sensing, feeling and understanding” the student response.

“I just want to make sure our elected officials get the message,” Ransdell said.

Reach Ashlee Clark at [email protected].