Ambassadors develop education bill regarding regent universities

Matt Wettengel

Although they say that their views on many issues differ, the ISU Ambassadors agree on one thing: Education should be a bipartisan issue.

To illustrate this point, the Ambassadors spent the better part of the fall semester creating a piece of legislation that deals with various aspects of post-secondary education at regents universities in the state of Iowa. Students from all sides of the political spectrum are involved with Ambassadors, which is a division of the Government of the Student Body tasked with serving as the connection between the ISU student body and the Iowa Legislature.

“We worked the entire first semester on trying to come to an agreement within the group on a bill,” said Ahna Kruzic, director of ISU Ambassadors. “There was a lot of debate amongst the group … everyone had ideas.”

In the past the group has focused on state funding to the regent universities, but this year it decided to take on new issues. The group began by listing their ideas on a whiteboard and voting on each one, trying to find the topics its members were most concerned about and felt should be addressed.

“We decided to stay away from … actual funding,” Kruzic said. “We didn’t want to ask for money for the regents universities since that’s something that the Board of Regents is already doing. They have lobbyists down there, and as students we’re already talking with our legislators about that, so we decided to specifically address other issues instead of just asking for money for the university.”

The bill that the group created addresses four main points: the expansion of student loan forgiveness programs in the state; the requirement of a financial responsibility course for freshmen; the requirement of regent universities to report 5-year graduation rates; and the ability to ask for 5 percent of donations to the school to go to a scholarship fund. Ambassadors submitted their bill to local legislators Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell and Rep. Lisa Heddens, who have tentatively agreed to co-sponsor it and who submitted it to the Legislative Services Agency to be put in legal form.

“I think the general premise is very good of what they’re doing,” Heddens said. “I’m thinking that some areas are going to bring more discussion over various other areas. We’ll see how far it gets this year, and if it doesn’t get through this year, we’ll have to review it with the Ambassadors and work on it until we get to the resolution that we want.”

Weekly trips to the Iowa Capitol have become routine for the Ambassadors this semester. Heddens praised their increased participation, which has allowed them to develop working relationships with state legislators.

Ann McCarthy, state relations officer for Iowa State, has worked with the group throughout the process of their legislative drafting and applauds their bipartisan efforts and the process they’ve gone through this year.

“They’re reaching out to Republicans and Democrats and beyond the ISU delegation,” she said. “They’re getting to know legislators and building rapport with legislators, which will only help their cause and Iowa State in general.”

These more frequent visits have also allowed them to receive feedback on the legislation they’ve submitted.

“We really thought that one party would think one thing and one party would think another, and we’d be getting feedback that was pretty identical from all Republicans and all Democrats, which has not been the case at all.”

Legislators from both parties are concerned about the micromanaging of the state’s regents organizations. Despite this concern, the ideas behind the group’s bill and the fact they’re being presented directly to legislators is the most valuable part of the process in GSB president Dakota Hoben’s eyes.

“Part of writing the bill is to put forth a vision from the students,” Hoben said. “A lot of legislators are removed from higher education, and we’re really trying to put forth some of the issues that students are dealing with in this day and age. I think that comes through pretty well in the bill.”

This Wednesday the Ambassadors will present their bill to the GSB at their weekly meeting and ask for the organization’s backing of the legislation that they’ve submitted. Hoben hopes that the GSB will back the legislation, as it was created with students’ best interests in mind.

“We don’t want to make this a divisive issue, we think this is an issue that we can unify people on, and so that’s what we want to focus on,” Hoben said.

Once the bill is drafted by the Legislative Services Agency, it will be returned to the cosponsoring representatives — Wessel-Kroeschell and Heddens — who will be able to make final changes to it before Feb. 24, which is the final day that bills can be reported out of committees by both the Senate and the House.