Students hit Capitol to lobby for State Grant program

By Anna Rockne

Last Thursday the marble halls of the State Capitol were filled with groups vying for lawmakers’ attention as they held sessions to pass a billion dollar bonding bill in response to the state budget deficit.Among the school counselors and volunteer firefighters was a group of about two- dozen Macalester students, staff and faculty participating in Day at the Capitol, an annual lobbying event where students across the state ask lawmakers to continue their support of the State Grant program.

Minnesota’s Private Colleges bring 700 students to the Capitol over six weeks to lobby for the State Grant program, which provides scholarships for 80,000 low and middle-income Minnesotans to the tune of $156 million annually.

“This program benefits everybody: Minnesota students who get the funds, non-Minnesota students whose school can better afford to help them because of the grant and the state as a whole, due to the higher level of education and thus productivity,” said Zach McDade ’10. “The single greatest determinant in economic growth is education.”

State Auditor and Mac alumna Rebecca Otto (D.) welcomed the students and discussed how her education lead her to state office.

“I’m really concerned about the amount of debt some students walk away with,” Otto said. “I want to make sure we make education accessible and affordable for everyone in the state.”

Dennis Egan, a lobbyist for Minnesota’s Private Colleges, explained the threats the State Grant program faces.

“Last week we heard that Minnesota is facing a billion dollar deficit. We have been told, for now, the state grant program won’t be cut, but there’s no guarantee,” Egan said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has considered taking $14 million from the program to put toward the deficit, or alternatively taking $11 million to invest in the state deficit and leaving $4 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, a group that is already the greatest beneficiary of the State Grant Program, Egan said.

According to Sen. Richard Cohen (D. St. Paul), the State Grant program has a surplus of $15 million, which Gov. Pawlenty and other lawmakers have cited as their reason for proposing to cut between $11 and $14 million from the program.

“It’s robbing Pete to pay Paul,” said Doug Stone, director of college relations and an organizer for Day at the Capitol.

Egan wrapped up Day at the Capitol by encouraging students to write letters and send e-mails to their Representatives to reinforce their lobbying.

“They will remember your face when the issues comes up in the legislature,” said Egan. “That conversation will ring true.