UCC Mainstream Online

The $140 million question

House Bill 5101 passed as part of a “grand bargain” in state education

A new Oregon state law will grant $140 million to state education, but the $40 million going to higher learning will unlikely reverse tuition costs and has set an unsettling precedent in state politics.

The law’s one-time investment in education will grant $15 million to community colleges and $25 million to public universities with the intent to slow the increase of tuition and fees. The remaining $100 million will be put in K–12 education.

 The law, passed Oct. 8, requires community colleges and public universities to use the funds to help slow down tuition and fee increases. This cash infusion provides temporary relief for Oregon college students who are burdened by the cost of tuition and student debt.

College students’ current hope for this law came down to two simple words: “Lower prices,” said Andy Sesma, a current UCC student.

However, the effect of the law will likely be invisible; students will continue to see costs increase—just at a slower rate and for a limited time. The funding does nothing to address the overall trend of higher costs for a college education and provides little regulatory language regarding how the funds will be applied to tuition and fees.

It is a bandage when Oregon needs a tourniquet.

The law may truly slow tuition increases for a time, but the extent is unknown. “Each college will have to evaluate their finances independently,” said Rebecca Redell, UCC’s chief financial officer, during an email interview.

Redell said the amount UCC will receive from this Oct. 8 law will be known when a draft by the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development (CCWD) is delivered. She expects it soon.

Any effect on UCC’s tuition and fees will not begin until next year when funding for the law will be distributed.

The world has few problems which can’t be solved with a good education. A country filled with educated minds will undoubtedly lead to a country with more jobs, stronger leaders and a smarter electorate, but this can only occur when society dedicates itself to not only students but teachers as well.

“Teachers should be paid the most,” said Rick Hornback, a Roseburg resident, while considering the recent law and professional sports players’ salaries.

The law, House Bill 5101, was passed during a special session of the state Legislature called by Gov. Kitzhaber as part of a “grand bargain.” The bargain included four other bills: The resulting laws limit the ability for counties to regulate genetically modified crops, cut PERS pensions, increase taxes on large corporations and decrease taxes on small businesses.

Gov. Kitzhaber’s special sessions have aroused some intense conflict among Oregon politicians. A special session may only be called by a governor during “extraordinary situations” according to the Oregon constitution. To most, this would mean during an emergency; however, no emergency or even any sort of extraordinary situation presented itself when Gov. Kitzhaber made the decision to use this option.

The ability to call the state Legislature into session sounds like a useful tool; however, it prevents citizens from having adequate time to learn about and petition their government representatives regarding these special session bills. Even worse, it could potentially leave room for special interests to sway political decisions.

“The public should be disappointed by the lack of transparency of closed-door deals,” said Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican from the Oregon House of Representatives, in his recent newsletter regarding the special session, “The debate should be more robust than public testimony limited to two minutes per person.”

Gov. Kitzhaber announced he would call the special session on Sept. 18, and public hearings were held on Sept. 30 before the bills were passed three days later. This only gave the public a total of 15 days to organize themselves before votes were made.

There is no shame in wanting to streamline the political process and invest in education and other important issues. Considering the recent government shutdown, many people would be overjoyed to have a government that actually functions and even more so to have one that works quickly; however, for the sake of a healthy democracy, politicians cannot be allowed to make sudden decisions on laws at their own discretion—especially without the direct consent of the people.

Citizens should remain wary of future attempts to push through legislation. If bypassing the will of the people becomes the new precedent for politicians, people power may end up becoming something of the past.