A Student Council proposal to invite state lawmakers to a budget summit has potential, but also room for improvement
Student Council discussed plans Tuesday to host a summit this summer between students and legislators to address fiscal issues in higher education. Legislative Affairs Committee Chair Jonathan Klaren outlined this event, which is meant to address growing concerns about state appropriations and rising tuition. This summit is certainly a noble project, and we have some suggestions to ensure it is effective.
The first question is who should be invited. Council contacted Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, early because of his proximity and helpfulness in previous interactions with committee members, Klaren said. Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, is also being considered, Klaren said. So for those keeping score - that's one Republican and one Democrat. That's appropriate, because we think it is imperative for this summit to have equal representation from both the two main parties.
The Legislative Affairs Committee already takes students to lobby at the state Capitol, and this summit might do just the opposite. "I'm worried about inviting Republican and Democratic legislators - they're going to be having the same arguments that they have in Richmond," Klaren said. Though, ideally, students could learn about these issues without politics tagging along, part of understanding the current difficulties in higher education is seeing how the debates play out.
Klaren said he has also received emails from Laura Fornash, state secretary of education for Virginia, and Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, both of whom showed interest. Including such figures, as well as University officials, would guarantee not only politicians but all relevant parties are heard from.
The tallest logistical hurdle for this summit is deciding on a schedule. Though Council is still in the earliest phases of planning, it has tossed around the idea the event should occur during the summer.
This is surprising, as there are no elections for General Assembly in November to occupy legislators' time and more University students will be on Grounds in the fall. The possible involvement of state legislators with national campaigns and the general availability of people during the summer could explain the schedule preference. But, if anything, having this discussion closer to the national elections will help inform students about issues in education which are relevant to all voters and all candidates aspiring to Washington.
If Council wants to keep things intimate, holding the summit in the summer may be ideal. "Maybe a small group of 50 students, where we can have a town hall style dialogue could be better for this," Klaren said. In addition, if more of the outside participants turn out to be available in the summer, perhaps that is in fact the best option.
Nevertheless, we think holding this dialogue in the fall would both give Council more time to prepare and more students the opportunity to participate. Moreover, as it has done for events such as Look Hoos Talking, Council should utilize live streaming technology to reach a wider audience. "That's a great idea," Klaren said. "I'm probably going to steal that now."
With this summit, Council has presented a bold, ambitious proposal. As state legislators prepare to leave Richmond, to ensure they come to Charlottesville the Legislative Affairs Committee will need to make several of these logistical decisions before the end of its session.