Budget axe could thwart education goals


December 14th, 2010

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Lincoln, NE – State officials say they want more Nebraskans to go to college, but proposed budget cuts may work against that goal.

Gov. Dave Heineman is talking up higher education. Monday, he announced, what he called a “College Access Summit” meeting, to be held in May. It will bring together education and business leaders to discuss developing a skilled workforce for the future.

“Our focus is on expanding access to colleges and universities for the benefit of high school graduates,” he said.

Heineman said increasing scholarships would help more students attend college. But the rhetorical support for growing such efforts comes at a time when the budget axe may be aiming to chop them down. Last week, Senator Greg Adams of York said the Education Committee is going to propose eliminating funds for a state scholarship program that helps students from lower-income families afford college. The proposal is part of an exercise in which committees identify cuts which they don’t necessarily support, but which would be needed if the budget is to be reduced by 10 percent.

“There’s the lightening rod that we’re going to hang out there in a separate bill. That’s about $6.5 million to the state and also frees up about $7.5 million in lottery money,” York said. “Question is: do you want to do away with financial aid and the state’s contribution to it?”

Heineman was asked his attitude towards such an idea and whether he would put something similar in his budget proposal.

“I think I’d be inclined to resist,” he said. “We’re looking at all those issues. I don’t want to make a judgment too early because we do face challenging times, but I believe scholarships are important, and so that would be one of the very last items that we would look at in terms of reducing.”

The Postsecondary Coordinating Commission, which administers the scholarship program, has requested an increase of nearly $2 million a year for it. But the Commission has also recommended cutting the program by nearly $700,000 a year if it had to cut its budget 10 percent. The state faces about a 14 percent gap in its next two-year budget. The governor has promised to propose balancing the budget with no increase in taxes.

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