South Dakota college students to lobby lawmakers to continue public university tuition freeze

Government And Institutions Associated Press

South Dakota College students plan to press lawmakers to pay for a tuition freeze at the state's public universities — something that Gov. Dennis Daugaard didn't include in his budget plan.

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South Dakota Student Federation executive director Jess Peterson on Wednesday said students will lobby during the upcoming legislative session for a continuation of the in-state student tuition freeze, for which the Board of Regents requested $6.8 million to maintain in the next state budget period.

Board of Regents CEO Jack Warner called the tuition freeze the regents' top request but said the board will support Daugaard's budget proposal won't push lawmakers to fund a continuation of the freeze.

Daugaard on Tuesday recommended about $4.5 million in new state funding for the regents — much less than the $12.8 million in ongoing state aid requested by the governing body, which oversees South Dakota's six state universities. Daugaard said the state lacks the money to continue funding the freeze.

"While we were disappointed, we certainly understand the state's in a more challenging financial positon than it was a year ago," Warner said.

Daugaard proposed about $50 million in new general fund spending in his budget for fiscal year 2016. Lower-than-expected revenues kept the Republican governor from seeking larger spending hikes, and the budget contains no general fund tax increases. Lawmakers said after the address that the governor's recommendation is a starting point for debate once the Legislature convenes in mid-January.

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Warner said the board will review the budget plan at a meeting Thursday.

Peterson was at the Capitol watching the budget address. She said students don't have a concrete plan yet on how to push for the freeze, but said they'll make it a focus come January.

Warner and Peterson praised Daugaard's proposal for funding building maintenance. They also lauded about $1.3 million in the proposal to bump the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship from $5,000 to $6,500 per student.

In-state tuition at public South Dakota universities for fiscal year 2015 ranges from $3,993 to $4,164 depending on the institution.

Republican Rep. Jacqueline Sly, who chaired the House Education committee during the 2014 session, praised the students for engaging in the political process. She said it's unclear where the state's economy will head or if they'll be able to persuade lawmakers to allocate the extra funding.

"There are strange things that happen sometimes in the Legislature," Sly said.