Teachers, students protest tuition hikes, funding cuts

There is also concern about the UM tuition freeze for 2010-2011.

Students, teachers and parents in California and 30 other states marched in demonstrations Thursday to protest rising tuition rates and higher education funding cuts.

More than 100 protests took place across the country, with parents and teachers speaking out against cuts in K-12 education spending. Students also protested tuition and fee hikes at several public colleges.

The largest number of protests was in California, where a $21.6 billion budget deficit has forced the University of California system to raise tuition 32 percent for the 2010-2011 school year.

There were no protests in Missouri related to the movement. Samantha Ware, Associated Students of the University of Missouri campus coordinator, said tuition increases in other states likely create financial difficulties for some and said the in-state tuition freeze helped her.

"I think that sharply raising tuition in an economic crisis is not the best way to help students," she said. "I think that Mizzou's tuition freeze has helped students stay in school."

Tuition at Missouri's public colleges and universities has been frozen at 2006-2007 levels under deals with legislature to limit appropriation cuts, but those freeze agreements might not be entirely safe.

In a Feb. 2 letter to the Columbia Missourian and several other newspapers across the state, Robert Stein, commissioner of the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education, said tuitions would have to rise or school budgets be cut to close the state's future budget deficits because raising taxes is "a political non-starter."

Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education, said the state's fiscal situation is worse than it was when Gov. Jay Nixon announced the freeze deal in November.

"I think it's a really dicey situation," Wagner said. "People thought the state's fiscal situation was going to improve, and it hasn't. I think it's going to happen, but it's going to be tough."

Even if the legislature did not approve the tuition freeze for next school year, state law limits the percentage amount by which schools can raise their tuition, Wagner said. MU can only raise its yearly tuition by a maximum of 2.7 percent per year.

Given the 2006-2007 rate of $8,500 per year for a student taking 28 hours of classes, that would mean MU could only raise tuition to a maximum of $8,729.50. The school would have to appeal to the board for a larger increase.

Ware said MU students would strongly oppose any rescinding of the 2010-2011 tuition freeze.

"Students would react very poorly," she said. "If they were to say, 'Hey, we're not going to do this,' we would take that to our board and think of a response. Missouri would probably hop on board with the protesting."

Nixon announced the deal with the state's public colleges in a press conference on the MU campus, surrounded by students, with one speaking about the benefits low in-state tuition.

California State Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, sponsored a bill that would create a 9.9 percent severance tax on oil companies in that state. California is the only oil-producing state that does not have a severance tax. Thirty percent of the money from that tax would go to the UC system.

Torrico, the Assembly majority leader, attended a March 1 rally at the state capitol of Sacramento to talk about ways to lower the proposed increase.

"I think it does demonstrate a real outrage among the people here," he said. "We went there to talk about a solution to the problem."

Victor Sanchez is a senior at the University of California-Santa Cruz and president of the University of California Student Association, a student rights group that supported the March 4 protests.

The California legislature might not address the students' complaints immediately, but Sanchez said he was encouraged to see so many students in the state become active in the cause and also to see its national reach.

"I definitely think there's been a broad awakening, and the economic crisis has really brought that out," Sanchez said. "It's not isolated. It's been happening across the country, but it started here in California."

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