Students Aren’t Irresponsible – The Minimum Tuition Bill Is

Amid my short bout of confusion this afternoon over the status of the minimum tuition bill, HB 2675, I contacted the original sponsor, Representative John Kavanagh, asking if the bill had been withdrawn, and received a simple answer that the bill has not been withdrawn and will be discussed in the Appropriations Committee this week (see my update on today’s prior post). In addition, Kavanagh also sent me talking points as to why the bill should be passed, which I have decided to post in its entirety for you:

  • Currently about 48% of students at our state universities pay no tuition at all. Only 5% are academic or athletic scholars. The rest are being given unearned tuition subsidies from the universities.
  • HB2675 requires students, other than academic and athletic scholars, to pay $2,000 of their approximately $9,000 yearly tuition – a mere 20%. They may use their own money, university work-study program money or outside scholarships, grants, gifts or loans, excluding Pell grants, to pay this $2,000.
  • HB2675 still allows the universities to give these students up to $7,000 per year in unearned tuition subsidies, about 80% of their tuition.
  • The $18 million that this frees up will be kept by the universities and may be spent for other purposes, such as tuition rate reductions or improving academics.
  • Even if some students have to take out loans to pay the minimum $2,000 tuition per year and an extra $1,500 per year for fees and books, that still would only amount to a four-year debt of $14,000, which is less than the cost of a Chevy Sonic. Our state university degrees are worth far more than the cost of a Chevy Sonic. In addition, based upon an inspection of university parking lots, students have no trouble getting car loans for greater amounts and paying them off.
  • These unearned tuition subsidizes, which pay the full tuition of non-academic and non-athletic scholars, cause several unintended negative consequences:
    • The free tuition often makes it cheaper for students to attend universities rather than community colleges, which lures some less academically prepared students to universities, when they would be better served going to smaller, more teaching-focused community colleges for a year to two before going to impersonal university with greater distractions. As a result, some of these students fail or drop out, lowering the completion rates of our state universities, which lowers their national ratings and devalues the worth and prestige of their past, present and future degrees.
    • When students pay nothing towards their tuition, some take their studies less seriously and then fail to graduate. This lowers the completion rates of the universities, their national ratings and the value of their degrees.
    •  Taxpayers who generally do not have university degrees wind up paying the tuition of those who will statistically earn one-half to a full million dollars more in salary over their lifetimes. This is unfair.
    • Currently, nearly half of all in-state undergraduates pay no tuition due to this unearned subsidy, which extends this aid well beyond the poor.

Kavanagh repeatedly refers to need-based full-ride scholarships as “unearned tuition subsidies,” arguing that completing the admissions process and qualifying for funding based on financial necessity is not enough to warrant being awarded the funds to pay for education. Again, we are seeing a division being made between the academic and athletic scholarship recipients, who “earn” (and by extension, deserve) their scholarships, and those who apparently receive unwarranted scholarships. And he covers for it by saying that he’s only making them pay a mere 20%, a mere $2,000 a year. But that’s precisely why people receive these types of scholarships – because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford the education for which they are striving. To call this anything other than a war on the lower class is to admit that you’re not paying attention.

But it’s not enough to force the poor to pay for tuition that they can’t afford. Why not add a dose of condescending humor? Kavanagh decides to compare the overall cost of tuition to a cheap car, assumes that value equals dollars rendered and nothing else, and then says this:

…based upon an inspection of university parking lots, students have no trouble getting car loans for greater amounts and paying them off.

What kind of assholey argument is that? Kavanagh is ignoring that transportation – like education – is often a necessity, while simultaneously ignoring that a large number of students rely solely on public transportation to reach campus. He ignores that students sometimes need cars to get to jobs to help pay for rent, books, and other costs – things that a full-ride scholarship still doesn’t cover. He’s ignoring that, without a scholarship to cover tuition costs, paying for things like cars – or even parking on campus – is difficult for many. He’s also ignoring that students are individuals worth more respect than his little jab at fiscal responsibility conveys.

The fact that Kavanagh thinks that students – especially poor ones – are irresponsible and unable to make good decisions is continually reinforced with every bullet point. It goes beyond “students who get scholarships waste money on cars.” Students who can’t afford higher education don’t deserve a chance to get it. Students who successfully get admitted to research universities aren’t committed or prepared enough to finish college. Students who don’t pay for their education don’t value it and as a result won’t try hard. Those who want to pursue higher education, but can’t afford it, don’t deserve the help of the community that would benefit from their work.

That this type of legislation can be seen as anything but an attack on the poor is absurd. And yet it’s only when the marginalized (or in the case of Occupy, the newly marginalized) try to stand up that it’s called class warfare. This is just one of many instances in which the legislature is trying to put more pressure on those that have little and are striving for more. It’s a shame that this type of legislation is even seeing the light of day in a time when more and more people are being squeezed by the recession and are fighting to attain a higher education. Students aren’t irresponsible for aiming to get an education. However, it is irresponsible for the government to try to walk away from its obligation to provide an education to residents that are a part of the community, help fund the institution, and want to be educated.

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HB 2675 Might Be Gone (with updates)

A few moments ago, I was on the Arizona state legislature’s website to check up on a current nemesis, the minimum tuition bill that would get rid of need-based full-ride scholarships. While on the site, I found the bill and checked its status – nothing had changed. I checked the overview and its most recent action was listed as “2/15/12 W/D,” which indicates (to my knowledge) that the bill was withdrawn.

Most recent action lists the bill as withdrawn. (Screen captured at 11:40 today)

Having not heard much, I perused local newspapers and asked the internet about it, so far to no avail. I called the original sponsor of the bill, but got no answer. For a while, the state legislature’s website was rerouting me to this bill, a bill from the previous legislative session regarding food stamps. Manually finding my way back to the current session, the bill still says it was withdrawn last week. I’ll update more on this as the day moves continues.

12:45 Update: It appears that the bill has been withdrawn from the Committee on Higher Education, Innovation and Reform, although I have not found out why. The Appropriations Committee, of which Rep. John Kavanagh is the chairman, is still scheduled to discuss the bill tomorrow morning. Including Kavanagh, six sponsors of the bill are on the 13-member committee. The HEIR Committee had no sponsors among its membership.

9:40 Update: Earlier this afternoon I e-mailed the original sponsor of the bill to ask about its status. He responded with a long list of reasons to support the bill, which I just finished criticizing here.

Feb. 23 Update: The House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to pass the bill after a very intense testimony from students and other stakeholders. It’s a sad move towards a potential equivalent to a $2,000 tuition increase for the poorest students in the state. An amendment was passed exempting students living on campus, but an exemption for veterans was not passed.

Mar. 1 Update: The bill was withdrawn by Rep. Kavanagh yesterday!

What’s So Different About Arizona Politics?

As Arizona celebrates its one hundred years of being a state, I think it might be important to see where the state’s politics are now, and where they might be going as we look out towards the next one hundred years. I don’t just mean the shift to extreme conservative politics, which is definitely a factor not to be overlooked, but here I want to look more at overall change the way politics happens on the state level here in Arizona.

Mark Lacey, bureau chief at NYT; Jennifer Steen, professor at ASU; Art Hamilton, former House Leader; Tom Zoellner, journalist and author, in October. Photo from Zócalo.

Last fall I went to a panel discussion hosted by Zócalo Public Square in Scottsdale about Arizona’s position on the national stage (you can watch the full video here), where there were several references to Arizona as the 21st century’s antebellum Kansas or Civil Rights Alabama. That is, that Arizona is sitting at the epicenter of a change in the political system either from the anti-immigrant discourse that is being created or from the state-versus-federal narrative that is being woven here. The talk itself was titled “Is Arizona the Front Line of American Politics?”

The event went far beyond the effect on national politics of immigration in Arizona. Arizona has been at the forefront of quite a few different issues, be it immigration, gun control, or education. ASU is still in the midst of privatizing the law school and ethnic studies programs are being forcibly removed from classrooms. It’s not weird to see people with guns on their hips at the grocery store or sitting at McDonald’s. Recent laws allowing concealed weapons without a permit were of huge debate at the talk since Tom Zoellner, the author of A Safeway in Arizona, a book about the impact of the attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords, was one of the panel speakers.

One thing that has been a fact for a long time in Arizona regarding the limits to laws (I don’t know about other states, on the frontier or elsewhere), is that the police no longer have a say. Both in regards to SB 1070 and to numerous gun laws in Arizona, the law makers no longer defer to law enforcement. Before, police would weigh in on whether or not concealed rifles would be safe in the city – now nobody seems to care what the police think. Zoellner argued that this was partially because other border states in the Southwest were much older and had more matured political institutions, allowing Arizona to come to the fore on new ground for lawmaking. It’s an interesting idea that Arizona is a younger and more reckless state. It’s one explanation for why Arizona has served as a sort of test lab for new ideas, more so than most state governments. But what makes that possible?

At the same panel, Former House Minority Leader Art Hamilton argued that term limits left a legislature with no institutional memory or respect, and that “nobody takes care of the house” anymore. It’s an argument with which I’ve always agreed – rules in institutions like legislatures are open to abuse if there is no order, which is what we’re seeing in Arizona. From a joint report on term limits in Arizona [pdf] released in 2005:

Some observers suggested, however, that term limits have led to an increase in the number of dumb or frivolous bills being introduced and have prompted more people to introduce legislation they know nothing about just to make some sort of record and/or to please some interest group. With a weakening of leadership and the committee system, some observers saw also bills being passed with less vetting.
The emergence of a large group of newcomers more anxious than ever to get involved and make a mark for themselves has generated pressures for a more inclusive policymaking process, This has been especially marked in regard to the making of the budget, the most important thing the legislature does on a regular basis. While these changes may be viewed by many as generally positive, on a broader level, constant turnover in members and leaders, were linked by observers with more general chaos, more emotional decision making and more unpredictability as to results. The departure of several old-times has been accompanied by a loss of institutional memory regarding legislative norms, procedures, and protocol. Conversely, the increase in the number of inexperienced legislators has produced a body where more legislators are uncertain about how to do their jobs and are relatively uninformed about the issues facing the state.

On top of that, Arizona allows people to run for office once they have lived in the state for three years. This could compound the problem of legislators being uninformed about issues regarding the state in particular, and open the state up to imported politicians. While I agree with both of these points, and it seems that they definitely have something to do with the problems in Arizona’s state politics, I found that Arizona’s rules are comparable in the region.

California and Texas have almost identical eligibility and term limit laws, and yet Arizona stands out as the state constantly in the news for bills that challenge the status quo and sanity. Looking at these rules as flaws is a place to start, but I have yet to find what really is the answer to Arizona’s peculiar position in national politics. What sets Arizona’s government apart from other states’? Regardless of the answer (which I’m still looking for), I think it’s clear that Arizona is at the front line for national politics.

A New Burden for Arizona Students

Recently, State Representative John Kavanagh introduced a bill, HB 2675 [pdf], that would establish a minimum tuition that has to be paid by the student. The bill will force students to “pay $2,000 unless they have a full-ride scholarship based on athletics or academics” – effectively getting rid of needs-based full-ride assistance. The bill, if passed, would even restrict students’ ability to pay with other awards: it says that any other awards from a source affiliated with the university cannot be used to pay for tuition. This would include things like this fellowship that I won in my junior year, or countless other awards offered by the university, colleges, centers, and even the university’s foundation, forcing students to either work or take out loans to pay for their education.

The bill has 24 sponsors right now, and the body is comprised of sixty members. It’s not unrealistic to believe that this bill could become law very soon. It was introduced in the House by John Kavanagh, who you might know as the representative who was a staunch supporter of controversial SB1070 and was a big supporter of contracting with private prisons, in addition to the mastermind behind charging people $25 to visit their family members in prison. Not coincidentally, he is also an active member of ALEC and he received donations from prison privatization lobbyists. It looks like he’s now set his sights on higher education.

According to the linked article, Kavanagh thinks that $8,000 in loans isn’t much since those who choose to go to college will make more than those who don’t. Not only does that ignore the fact that many students who get full-ride scholarships still take out loans for cost of living, an $8,000 loan turns into almost $12,000 due to interest. Kavanagh also defends the fact that merit-based full-ride scholarships remain intact by saying that they contribute to the school. Because if you don’t get recognized  for your intellect of your athleticism in the form of cash, you must not bring anything to the table. He also argues that tax payers shouldn’t pay for higher education because then students don’t take classes as seriously and because it encourages enrollment of students who aren’t actually ready for college. He actually said that.

It’s important to note that the state constitution says that education must be as nearly free as possible. Instead, Kavanagh thinks it’s appropriate to throw a $2000 tuition increase at the most vulnerable students. The response in Arizona’s universities will be interesting. The universities in Arizona have been hit pretty hard over the years, including massive cuts in state funding over the last three years. Just during my time at ASU tuition has skyrocketed while class sizes get bigger. By law, each university will have to host a public hearing about the law since it constitutes a tuition increase for some students. It will be interesting to see if the student community can mobilize itself enough to speak up about this bill.

Voting

Tomorrow will probably be the biggest election day I have seen.  Definitely the most important in my short voting life.  Last week I mailed in my ballot – complete with 11 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 1 Libertarian and with 6 “no” votes and 4 “yes” votes in propositions.  Now, I’m sitting back and waiting for the ridiculous attack ads to fade out for what I’d like to be 18 to 20 months but in reality is probably maybe a year.  I’m also going to be sitting down and slowly watching a lot of people I like probably not return to office and a lot of people I don’t like get in.  This afternoon Kentucky will close its polls and the projections and numbers will begin to fly.

Even two years ago I knew that 2010 would be a loss for the Democratic Party.  In modern American history the new President’s party has only gained seats in the following midterm elections twice: in 1934 and 2002.  Even though we are in a recession and still fighting in two wars (who are we kidding, Operation Iraqi Freedom?) I don’t think gaining seats was ever really on the table for the Dems this year.  Not that I’m 100% happy with how they’ve been acting either.

The Democrats, with their supermajority in both houses of Congress, didn’t pull off nearly as much as I would’ve liked to see in the past two years.  I might be guaranteed health care, the SEC might be drafting a report on conflict minerals legislation, and Pell Grants might have been expanded.  But the DREAM Act hasn’t been passed and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is still very much in effect. I don’t have a public option for my health insurance and Race to the Top is no better than No Child Left Behind.  Clean energy legislation never showed up and we just released the moratorium on offshore drilling.  Now, I didn’t expect to see all of these things – but a couple would have been nice.

In Arizona, Democrats seem to be on the run.  Personally, I don’t think it’ll be the near complete rout that some are predicting.  Currently, my governor doesn’t know how to debate or answer questions. And the last county attorney to get elected is off his rocker.  So I think some people, even if they’re not happy with Democrats in Washington, might still keep a few shades of blue in Phoenix.  Point is, I hope my least favorite political party doesn’t sweep my state.  If xenophobic obstructionist birthers get too much power I’ll be a bit worried.

Regardless of what you think, I’d like to make one request: go vote! Whether you want to stand beside me or try to counter my vote – get those ballots in!

Arizona Votes

Arizona is the product of the progressive era.  As a result of the bipartisan wave of people asking for a more democratic democracy, Arizona’s constitution has all sorts of “by the people” parts to it.  The initiative, referendum, and recall are all pretty basic parts of Arizona’s law.  The initiative is the ability of people to petition for amendments and the referendum is the ability for legislators to bring up proposals that voters must approve.  As for recall, Arizona was actually denied statehood until the territory took the ability to vote to recall judges out of the constitution – but in the state’s first election it was reinstated.

Every election we have a plethora of propositions brought up by initiative or by referendum.  I know last election I talked a bit about the fun ones (like the idea of counting every missing vote as a no-vote for finance-related propositions) and the bad ones (defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman).  This year we’ve got the expected “hands off our healthcare” proposition.  But we also have an effort to make the right to hunt part of our constitution – right up there with speech and bearing arms; there’s also putting an end to affirmative action and stopping early childhood development and health programs.  I’m not usually a fan of most propositions, and this election cycle isn’t any different, it seems.

I’m not sure if other states are like Arizona.  I know most don’t have the ability to vote appointed judges out of office.  I’m assuming most people in other states don’t vote every four years for the office of State Mine Inspector (I have heard there are up to 120,000 abandoned mines in Arizona).  Do you all have the option to vote for school boards?  How about justices of the peace? What’s weird about your state’s political process?