SGA brings arguments to the Capitol

The Student Government Association traveled to Little Rock on Friday, April 7, to deliver a resolution signed by hundreds of Tech students that addressed the cost of higher education in Arkansas.

Other student governments from around the state were also present on Friday at the Capitol presenting similar resolutions drafted by their school government associations.

The groups were organized by a recently created association of college and university student government associations in the state that is known as the Arkansas Association of Students.

The Arkansas Tech petition sought to increase higher education funding, freeze the cost of tuition, maintain the current levels of scholarship payout and encourage lawmakers to examine the possibility of making the sale of textbooks tax-free in Arkansas.

The resolution cites figures that show that the cost of tuition at four-year institutions in Arkansas has increased 36.2% in recent years while funding from the state government has only increased 14.9%.

Specifically mentioned by the resolution is the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery scholarship payouts. Originally, when the scholarship was introduced, students meeting basic qualifications were given $5000 a year to attend an in-state four-year institution, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

In the years following, the payout amount has been decreased several times and now sits at just $1000 for a freshman at a four-year institution, with the scholarship increasing by $1000 every year for the next three years, according to the scholarship website.

The prospect of exempting students from taxes when purchasing textbooks is not unheard of. Thirteen states completely exempt students from taxes (five of those have no state sales taxes at all), and thirteen other states have varying tax-exemption policies for textbooks depending on what type of institution the students attend and other educational factors, a New York Times article from 2013 shows.

Ten members of the student government participated in the Little Rock trip and were accompanied by Susie Nicholson, vice president for student services and university relations, and Jenny Butler, assistant director of campus life.

The group scheduled several different meetings to advance their agenda, including several with influential Arkansas Tech alumni.

The group met with Michael Lamoureux, chief of staff to the governor, and state Rep. Trevor Down. Both are graduates of Tech. A representative of State Auditor Andrea Lea, an alumna of Tech, also met with the group.

“I don’t know if we got any tangible support or progress while we were there,” said Luke Dooly, vice president of SGA. “We mainly wanted to speak to our legislators to bring it up. We’ll have to follow up with our contact at UCA to see what progress we make.”

Bethany Skaggs, SGA president, was unable to travel to Little Rock on Friday, but said traveling to Little Rock was an important step in achieving the resolution’s goals.

“I feel like it’s just really important to go down there because it shows we’re not just off-handedly [saying] ‘hey we want this done,’” said Skaggs. “It shows we’re making a motion to put thought behind this.”