A Senate panel voted Thursday to give more money to two of the state’s three universities.
HB 2090 allocates an additional $12 million to Arizona State University on top of whatever cash lawmakers and the governor approve in regular state aid to the schools. The legislation also sets aside an extra $3.3 million for Northern Arizona University.
There are no funds for the University of Arizona. But that is by design.
Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said the way the annual state budget has been adopted for years has resulted in the other two schools getting less cash per student than UA. He said the last time that was adjusted was in the 1990s.
“In the last decade, both ASU and NAU have experienced explosive enrollment growth for which state monies were not increased significantly,” Yarbrough said. “Consequently, funding per student became even more unequal compared to (UA) which did not experience the same rate of growth.”
ASU President Michael Crow said the $15.3 million just begins to address the parity issue.
He said a study performed by the Board of Regents found it would take about $120 million in extra cash to his school and NAU to equalize per-student funding. Factoring out what he said are the “special responsibilities” of UA, including its medical school and agriculture departments, the regents pegged the real disparity at $60 million.
Crow said this is more than a bid by ASU and NAU for more money.
“With disparities resolved, universities can then move into the direction in which we’re headed, which is performance-based funding,” he told the Senate Finance Committee, rather than asking lawmakers for more money based solely on the number of students enrolled. Crow said this would allow each university to seek funding based on its individual performance.
Potentially more significant, once base-level funding issues are resolved, the universities then would be put in a position where they can compete against each other.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said the proposal ignores a simple fact.
“We don’t have $15.3 million,” he said.
Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, agreed. He said while the state currently has a slight surplus, that will disappear in several years, both with the expiration of the state’s temporary sales tax hike in 2013 and with possible additional costs the following year under the federal health care mandate.
“Parity is important,” he said. And Murphy said that can be achieved — but not the way Yarbrough is proposing.
“The right way to do it is to reallocate the dollars that we’re spending now ... new dollars that I don’t think we have,” he said.
Crow, however, said lawmakers should take advantage of the extra funds that are now available.
“This is an opportunistic method for us to solve a problem and to literally change history,” he said.
“Once the level playing field can be defined, I can say to our faculty and our staff, no more discussion about fairness, no more discussion about investment,” Crow said. “Let’s just perform, perform, perform.”
The proposal still faces other hurdles — including possible opposition from Gov. Jan Brewer.
Her budget plan unveiled in January has no funding to achieve parity, even with the recommendation from the Board of Regents. In fact, her presentation to the Legislature stated that “funding parity numbers are exaggerated” because they do not take into account the changes in what the universities got this past year.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss is willing to give that extra $15.3 million to the two schools — but not the way Yarbrough wants. He said that amounts to “simply throwing money at the problem.”
Instead, Brewer’s plan makes the funding contingent on the two schools redesigning their courses and making other changes “to improve student retention and lower per-student cost.”
Benson sidestepped a question of whether Brewer would veto Yarbrough’s no-strings measure, saying only that budget negotiations are ongoing.