Students from universities across the state of Ga. will march to and rally at the state capitol on Monday, March 15. The rally is being organized primarily by SGA Presidents from Tech and UGA in order to combat a proposed additional $385 million cut from the state’s higher education system budget.
Estimates by University System of Georgia (USG) Chancellor Erroll Davis suggest that it would take a 77 percent tuition increase to meet the budget cut. According to those proposed increases, tuition costs alone at research universities like Tech could rise to over $10,000 a year.
After the initial budget cuts were projected, SGA presidents from around the state began conversing about how to best address the additional USG budget reductions.
“The idea of a rally was born through the need to put a student face on the issue of cutting the state allocation to the University System,” Undergraduate SGA President Alina Staskevicius said. “All too often, I think that some tend to forget exactly who these budget cuts affect directly, and who would have to pay the increased tuition.”
The stated plan is to first march to the Capitol from nearby Hurt Park at 9:30 a.m, on Monday, March 15. After the march, a press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. on the Capitol’s steps.
“My hope is that the rally gets students talking to legislators, and that it puts a student face on this story of cutting money going to higher education in the state of Georgia,” Staskevicius said. “We are the future of the state—and funding our education and preserving the quality of our degrees should be a priority for the legislature.”
The third part of the initial plan was for the rally’s organizers and participants to meet with legislators and their subcommittees starting at 11 a.m.
However, on Tuesday, March 9, legislators in both houses adopted House Resolution 1514, which calls for a day of the legislative session’s adjournment on the day of the rally. In turn legislators won’t be required to be at the Capitol on the morning of the rally on the Capitol’s steps as the organizers had hoped, thus putting the prospect of discussing the additional budget cuts and alternative solutions with legislators and their subcommittees on the day of the rally in serious jeopardy.
Still, a Facebook event established for the USG student rally at the Capitol has over 2,000 confirmed attendees listed. The attendees are made up of students representing almost every USG institution.
“My goal is to have a thousand students at the Capitol, although I have absolutely no idea how many will actually be there. Seeing as how Georgia Tech is so close to the Capitol, I hope that we can bring several hundred.” Staskevicius said.
Over the past weekend Staskevicius hosted 18 SGA presidents from around the state to draft an official USG student stance on the budget cuts.
“SGA Presidents around the state have developed a central message that is rational and logical. If we want to be taken seriously, it is my opinion that we have to make solid arguments with legislators and also present solutions to deal with the tax revenue shortfall,” Staskevicius said.
The drafted message’s primary focus is to maintain Ga.’s quality of public higher education and to uphold the integrity of graduates’ degrees through four priorities. These include remaining competitive on a national and global scale with other universities, conserving access of quality public education to Ga.’s residents, allowing USG students to comply with the Board of Regents’ listed graduation timelines, and recruiting and retaining faculty members who contribute to each institution’s reputation.
“The primary goal throughout this process is to preserve the quality of our education and the reputation of our degrees. Although I cannot say this for sure, I would expect budget cuts to Tech to have a serious impact on money available to fund activities outside the classroom. I would also be concerned about more furlough days for faculty and staff and increased tuition for students,” Staskevicius said.
Although there had been talk of rescheduling it, the rally will remain scheduled for Monday, March 15, even though the legislature will not be in session. Attendees will begin organizing in Hurt Park, a few blocks from the Capitol at 8:30 a.m.