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Published April 10 2013

Forum editorial: ‘Process’ little more than stunt

It’s still a work in progress, but if a North Dakota House subcommittee prevails, an improved and eminently fair higher education funding formula will be shredded. Sen. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, is chairman of the education appropriations subcommittee. He apparently is ready to derail long-studied efforts to shift to a performance-based higher ed system. Further analysis of Skarphol’s scheme confirms it would lead to a funding shortfall on the campuses.

Skarphol rejects the claim that his committee’s amendments to Senate Bill 2003 constitute a cut in funding. “We’re just not giving them as much as the governor proposed,” he said.

That’s precisely the problem. The Senate-approved formula has support from the governor, campus presidents, many legislators and the university system chancellor. No matter how Skarphol spins it, his amendments would reduce appropriations to cover increased costs of salaries, inflation, capital projects and other campus expenses over the next two years. The cuts would amount to millions of dollars at a time when demands on higher education are escalating because of population growth, unique Oil Patch needs and the expanding job market all over the state for college-educated workers.

If the amendments clear the House, the two versions of the bill would go to conference committee for reconciliation, likely next week. So there is still time for lawmakers who value higher education to get it right – that is, reject the House subcommittee’s corrosive amendments.

Skarphol characterizes his grandstanding as “a process.” He said, “The House’s philosophy is different than others out there.” Here’s hoping the “others out there” in the House and Senate have their heads screwed on straighter than the chairman and his malleable committee members. After all, a “different philosophy” is no excuse for undermining one of the best public higher education systems in the nation.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.