Rally’s high turnout showed students’ interest in budget

In a rare break from apathetic tradition, UK students made their presence known at the annual Rally for Higher Education in Frankfort last week.

More than 70 UK students showed up at the rally, where about 200 students from across Kentucky spoke out against Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed 12 percent budget cuts for state universities, the Kernel reported Thursday.

Of course, the stakes this year were much higher than normal, as budget cuts of that level would likely mean soaring tuition rates and declining educational quality. By contrast, last year’s rally was about letting universities issue their own bonds for capital projects — an issue that bears no discernable relation to tuition rates.

What’s most important is that students have begun to realize that they need to get involved in politics if they want to fight tuition increases. For years, the typical targets of student fury over tuition have been President Lee Todd and the Board of Trustees — who do have the final say over annual rates but are constrained by how much the legislature allots for UK.

This year, UK students took the fight to the right people at the right time. But it shouldn’t stop here.

The more legislators know students are paying attention to the budget process — and the legislative elections in November, when every state House member and many senators will be up for re-election — the less likely they will be to vote for steep higher-education cuts.

The successful rally was an excellent start, but there are other ways for students to make their voices heard. Students can write, call and e-mail their local legislators to ask them to support budget measures like a cigarette tax or expanded gambling that would help restore funds for higher education. Contact information is available from the Legislative Research Commission (www.lrc.ky.gov).

Just as importantly, students need to register to vote in the May 20 primaries and Nov. 4 general election — and cast informed votes by paying attention to which legislators support higher education. Even out-of-state UK students, who are just as threatened by the proposed budget cuts, can register to vote locally. Voter registration forms and addresses are available from the Kentucky State Board of Elections (www.elect.ky.gov).

With the proposed budget cuts, Kentucky students face a major challenge this year. If last week’s rally was any indication, they’re ready to meet it.