UO students, faculty lobby for higher education funding at state Capitol

First published in the Register Guard, more than 100 University of Oregon students, faculty and alumni traveled to Salem last week for UO Lobby Day to push state lawmakers for more higher education funding this legislative session.

It was the biggest turnout for the UO’s annual event in the past few years with 115 UO stakeholders who got involved, about half of which were students.

“We try and be strategic based on committee. So of course we meet with the Eugene legislative delegation,” said Libby Batlan, associate vice president of state and community affairs for the UO. “We also target members on the joint committee on Ways and Means, budget writing committee, and House and Senate Education Policy committee.”

The purpose of the trip was two-fold: to make the case to lawmakers to invest in UO to keep tuition affordable and to explain the impact of the UO on the legislators’ districts — whether it be the number of students from their district who attend UO, the businesses who contribute or benefit from partnerships and student spending, etc.

“So helping legislators understand the broader impact of the university and the footprint the university has on the state and rely reinforcing the direct connection between state funding and college affordability,” said Hans Bernard, assistant vice president for state affairs at UO.

Batlan said they begin planning this event six months in advance, but this year the state Capitol was more crowded than expected with people lobbying for education funding. K-12 teachers across the state flooded Salem after holding local rallies in Portland, Eugene and Bend as they walked out of class to protest the need for more funding.

The two groups and interests didn’t clash though, said Batlan, because UO’s lobbying efforts ended about the time K-12 teachers started rallying on the Capitol steps.

However, the day did take a turn when Senate Republican legislators staged a walkout of their own from the Senate floor May 6 to avoid voting on the Student Success Act, which would earmark $2 million per biennium for Oregon’s public schools through a proposed half a percent tax on businesses. Senate Republicans ended a weeklong walkout Monday and returned to the Oregon Capitol after the governor and Democratic leadership agreed to major concessions. Republicans returned to the Senate, and the chamber was able to approve a $1 billion per year school funding tax by an 18-11 vote. It previously passed the House and now heads to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.

Bernard said he believes the timing of UO’s Lobby Day was crucial to getting in front of legislators before they make final budget decisions at the end of the session.

“The Red for Ed and UO at the Capitol were coordinated and I think our hope is that the investment for K-12 and investment higher ed will be coordinated (as well),” Bernard said.

Follow Jordyn Brown on Twitter @thejordynbrown or email at [email protected]