Tuition freeze at risk after Senate lowers stimulus bill

Nicole Stempak

Lefton, state officials urge Washington to reinstate

The $3.5 billion Gov. Ted Strickland is depending on to extend the tuition freeze and avoid more budget cuts is in jeopardy.

The U.S. Senate passed a federal stimulus bill yesterday, aimed at preserving and creating jobs that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost $838 billion over the next decade.

The Senate’s version of the bill reduced the amount of the education block grant from $79 billion to $39 billion, which was designed to help states avoid cuts in K-12 and higher education. The Senate also eliminated the $3.5 billion block grant that would fund shovel-ready higher-education infrastructure projects, including the tuition freeze.

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut urged University System of Ohio presidents, trustees, regents and friends in a letter Saturday to contact Sens. Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich to reverse the revisions.

“Tell our senators that the leaders and citizens of our state have decided that higher education is the key to our future economic prosperity,” he wrote. “… A similar commitment from the federal government would help the momentum continue in this difficult economic time.”

President Lester Lefton said he has written letters to Brown, Voinovich and President Barack Obama over the weekend, urging them to reinstate the money for higher education.

Lefton said he is worried because the governor’s proposed budget relies heavily on receiving money from the block grant.

“Gov. Strickland, who has been very generous with higher education this year, relative to other state agencies, has built his budget on the assumption that he will receive federal bailout money that will facilitate education and other projects,” Lefton said. “… If that money does not come through and if the governor revises his budget, the likely effect on higher education could be dramatic.”

The Senate passed the bill with a 61-37 vote. Brown voted in favor of the bill and Voinovich voted against the bill.

The bill now goes to a House-Senate conference to resolve differences between the two versions. Obama has publicly encouraged negotiators to restore some educational provisions to the Senate version, according to a story in the Washington Post.

Contact administration reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].