Testimony for tuition equity bill didn’t sway Senate Dems

Equity, accessibility, broader choice, and educational advantage would have been the four benefits realized for low–income college students if Colorado Senate Democrats had followed the lead of House Republicans in supporting House Bill 1168 this week.

So argued a young Centennial Institute staffer on Wednesday before the Senate State Affairs Committee, which killed the bill a few minutes later on a 3–2 party line vote. Karthik Venkatraj, interning with Centennial as part of his John Jay Fellowship, brought to the hearing his personal experience on tuition policy in Texas. Our previous report on HB–1168 is here. An education–news website covered the issue here. Following is Venkatraj’s prepared testimony:

My name is Karthik Venkatraj and I am currently a post graduate fellow at the John Jay Institute based out of Colorado Springs. I recently graduated and commissioned from Texas A&M University and served within the Pentagon on a two month assignment before being assigned to Fort Carson as an Army National Guard officer.

Last year, I was appointed from Texas A&M University to serve as the student representative to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board under Governor Rick Perry. Working on higher education within the state of Texas, it became clear how important it is to promote choice within higher education in order to foster competition as well as growth within the private sector. Such a strategy has been crucial in keeping tuition and fees low compared to states of similar sizes and advancing goals within Texas’ strategic Closing the Gaps campaign. In particular, the Tuition Equalization Grant or TEG, provides needs based grants to Texas residents to attend private intuitions within the state of Texas. Such legislation has greatly expanded opportunity for students, especially for low income students.

Similar to TEG, this bill exemplifies four key principles that are integral within education policy. The first key principle is equity and the fairness within. The passage of this bill would send a clear signal to students that if you have done hard work and made right choices, we’re going to give you the opportunity pursue an education of your choosing. The second key principle of this bill is accessibility, particularly for those who would be precluded from attending a school of their choice for fiscal reasons. A third key principle of this legislation is freedom of choice for Coloradans, which involves illustrating to students that one won’t be penalized for choosing a private over public institution. A final and critical principle is that this bill serves the greater public interest for Colorado in creating a better educated populace and greater specialization therein

This legislation is not vested in any particular partisan ideology but embodies values and principles that inform our nation. It is the values of a free and just society predicated on equity and meritocracy. My parents came to our nation to pursue the American Dream and it is my fear that this dream is slipping away within the context of unprecedented difficult economic times. Within that context, this bill is rated at zero fiscal impact, so we wouldn’t take one penny more from our taxpayers. In fact, the legislation would take less than $6 away from a public student stipend recipient according to the Colorado Legislative Council Staff Fiscal Note. But this minute amount of fiscal impact has far reaching and powerful implications vested within the ability of younger folks to pursue their own dreams. It’s exemplified in the narrative of a young man who senses a calling to be a Pastor and minister to kids in inner city Denver. It’s in the narrative of a young woman who desires to be the next Condoleeza Rice and pursue her studies at the University of Denver like her hero. This bill exemplifies what we hold dear as Americans and what we seek to offer for future generations.


Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the bill sponsor, listens Karthik Venkatraj testifies on HB-1168

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