Super Tuesday brings bad news for Commonwealth’s colleges

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November 6, 2009

1:05 AM

As most of you know, Virginia held elections for many offices in the state’s government Tuesday. As a public school, the College of William and Mary has a vested interest in the outcome of these contests, specifically those for governor and those for members of the House of Delegates. Therefore, it is then important for students to analyze the elections through the lens of their potential impacts on the College.

Lawmakers have a great effect on the College in two areas: They determine the amount of funding the state provides us, and they can also enact legislation to adjust the ratio of in-state to out-of-state students admitted. Since these decisions are made by the governor and the General Assembly, what do Tuesday’s elections portend for the future?

First of all, education was nowhere near the top issue in this election. With the economy still in crisis, economics, jobs and fiscal policy were the main topics. That being said, all the candidates at least mentioned the topic, although many only did so using hazy bromides.

Bob McDonnell, our newly elected governor, does have a lot to say about education, although most of his attention was allocated to K-12 education. He promises full funding to K-12 public education, as well as an expansion of the charter school program and the creation of more specialized high schools, such as the Thomas Jefferson Science and Technology High School in Alexandria, Va. On higher education, while he acknowledges an unacceptable drop in state funding and a concurrent rise in tuition, he gives little indication of a focused plan to combat these trends.

The nearest he comes is through purporting to support programs that reduce the cost of textbooks to students through electronic reading devices and textbook rental programs. While this would help students, who spend on average $3,600 on textbooks across four years, it is merely a drop in the bucket compared to tuition. Most importantly, however, he has yet to address the prospects of future funding cuts or admissions policies.

Less visible than the governor’s race, the Virginia House of Delegates also held elections on Tuesday. Of the 100, seats only 20 changed hands. These new members — 12 Republicans and eight Democrats — have the potential to affect the College through legislation. So where do they stand on the issues?

Again, like McDonnell, education is not the main focus of the delegates’ campaigns. Most of them are content in proclaiming to “increase educational opportunities for Virginians,” and then leave it at that. However, there are some trends in the winning platforms that may be predictive.

First of all, if you were worried about a tax hike, don’t be. All 12 Republicans ran on low taxes and cutting spending, and a good portion of the Democrats also endorsed at least middle class and small business tax credits. While this may be a relief to Virginians, no new tax revenue means said revenue cannot be spent on public universities. Although higher taxes would by no means necessarily translate into more funding, there is always the hope that it might.

When it comes to education, the primary focus of all the winning candidates was on K-12 education. Since K-12 funding competes with higher education funding as a portion of the overall education budget, we may assume that even in the case where the state has excess funds to spend, they will most likely go toward K-12 as opposed to higher education.

Of all the winning delegates, very few seemed to have specific plans for higher education. At one end of the spectrum we have Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), who explicitly rejects an out-of-state student cap and promises to fight more cuts for higher education. In my (out-of-state) view, this is the type of delegate we want in Richmond. His polar opposite is delegate-elect Jim LeMunyon (R-Chantilly).

LeMunyon not only wants to mandate that 75 percent of students are Virginians, but he also somehow believes no new funding will be needed to keep in-state tuition low. Rather, LeMunyon thinks low in-state tuition can be subsidized by an out-of-state tuition increase. We should hope he finds little support for such opinions.

On the whole, the outcome of this election was not in the College’s favor. In the short run, low taxes and emphasis on funding K-12 education do not work to our advantage. Furthermore, Republicans like LeMunyon are generally more sympathetic to out-of-state student caps. As Republicans gained several seats this week, the prospect of such a bill becoming law has become a more distinct possibility.

E-mail Ed Innace at [email protected] Cartoon by Olivia Walch.

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