If there’s a reporter free in Sioux Falls on Monday morning (March 24), the state Board of Education meeting has a newsworthy topic — two, actually. The board appears poised to increase the maintenance and repair fee charged to technical-institute students. The fee has been $3 per credit hour; the meeting document for the board shows a $4 fee. It’s item No. 10 on the board’s agenda. The board also appears poised to raise the facility fee by $3; currently it’s $25 per credit hour and the meeting document shows $28 per credit hour for fiscal 2015.
Here’s the catch. On one hand, the governor and the Legislature approved funding for the state colleges and public technical institutes in the coming year based on a goal of zero tuition increase. The state Board of Education isn’t proposing a tuition increase. But there appears to be a plan in place to add $4 more per credit hour in student fees at the tech institutes. That’s a 3 percent increase. The tuition itself would have gone up another $5, according to the board document, but there is a “tuition buy-down” of additional state funding that offsets that additional $5. So instead of a $9 increase, it’s a $4 increase. If the $4 goes through, total tuition and fees for tech-school students will become $137 for the fiscal 2015 school year that begins this fall. That’s up from $109 four years ago in fiscal 2011. I’m not a math major but that’s $28 more.
This will be done without any public notice, other than reading the meeting documents, and without an advertised public hearing. Let’s hope the Legislature is paying attention. Last time I checked, the lawmakers return to the Capitol on March 31 for the final day of the 2014 regular session. Maybe it’s time to require public hearings for all fee increases by state boards and commissions.
We will be leaving Pierre by 4 a.m. to see what this meeting holds. Here is the link to the agenda that includes a call-in telephone number if you want to listen. The meeting starts at 8 a.m. CDT.
UPDATE: The board approved the fees. Somebody — maybe Rep. G. Mark Mickelson? — has to sort out the mess that tech-school tuition and fees have become. South Dakota charges most to students in the region at same time that workforce needs more young people in these trades.