Rally round the Capitol

College students from across the state protest proposed cuts to higher ed

Gov. Steve Beshear told Kentucky college students who were rallying with homemade signs and painted faces in the Capitol yesterday that there is not enough money for higher education in the state budget.

“First, higher education has to be one of the top priorities for the future of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Beshear said. “Second, the budget does not contain enough money for higher education.”

Over 200 people packed into the Capitol building in Frankfort for the annual Rally for Higher Education.

This year’s protests focused on proposed budget cuts for public universities.

Students and student organizations from Kentucky public universities, including UK and the University of Louisville, came to express opposition to the cuts in higher education funding — which Beshear warned could be as high as 12 percent on top of a 3 percent cut already enacted.

Signs that read “Don’t Take My KEES Money” and students chanting, “education pays” greeted Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who spoke to the crowd about economic progress and its tie to higher education.

Budget cuts would be a step backward in economic progress, Grayson said.

“I’m disturbed that with the Commonwealth again facing tough budgetary times we might revert to the traditional and short-sighted approach to balancing the budget — slashing higher education,” Grayson said. “We’ve turned a corner, and we’re not turning back.”

Beshear said he was glad students were advocating for their education, but they must talk to legislators about how they can fund higher education in Kentucky.

“We want you to speak very loudly and clearly,” Beshear said. “Everybody ought to step up and say where this money ought to come from.”

Jennifer Hunt, an integrated strategic communications sophomore, attended the rally because she was concerned about losing her Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship money. There has to be ways to cover the deficit other than cutting higher education funding, Hunt said.

“I agree (with students) that the budget should not be balanced on us,” Hunt said. “There are other things that could be cut instead of education.”

Student Government President Nick Phelps helped plan the rally with the Board of Student Body Presidents. Beshear and Grayson both delivered strong messages to students at the rally, Phelps said.

“(The governor) doesn’t want to cut our budget, but he is,” Phelps said. “What he did assure us of is we are a top priority for any new money.”

Jessica Stevens, an arts administration and marketing sophomore, said she was encouraged by Beshear’s comments and felt that the high turnout of students made a positive difference.

“We might not have done much, but just us being here shows how much we care,” Stevens said. “We’re showing (the legislators) this is not something we will stand for.”

Phelps said he was incredibly pleased with the turnout. More than 70 UK students were at the rally, more than the 35 who attended last year and the five that went two years ago. The SG president said he hopes the General Assembly will consider the students’ voices when discussing the budget.

“I think if the legislature works together and works hard like they need to, and drop a little bit of the politics, then we can definitely find the funds available to take care of most of the losses,” he said.