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Lawmakers consider extra funding for NAU, ASU

Arizona lawmakers are considering legislation to ensure the state is spending the same amount of money per student at each of its three public universities.

A Senate committee on Thursday approved a proposal giving $15.3 million to Arizona State University in Tempe and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to fix a current funding disparity. Another committee must approve the proposal before it goes before the full Senate.

Both ASU and NAU have seen a huge bump in enrollment in recent years, but state funding at the universities has not accommodated that. Consequently, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University get less money per student than the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The University of Arizona received almost $900 more per student than ASU and almost $760 more per student than NAU for the 2010-2011 school year. The gaps in funding are slightly smaller for the 2012-2013 school year, with the University of Arizona getting about $550 per student more than ASU and $350 more per student than NAU.

Lawmakers have attempted a similar funding fix in recent years, but concerns about budget shortfalls kept those proposals from making it out of the Legislature.

State Sen. Steve Yarbrough, a Republican from Chandler, said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday that equal funding for the universities is a big concern, and the last major spending adjustment for enrollment occurred during the mid-1990s.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow testified that the funding disparity “crept up on us.” Crow said that he knows some lawmakers “are concerned about appropriating anything for anything,” but this money is correcting an error.

The legislation was approved 4-2, with the two opposing votes saying they supported the idea but felt the state didn’t have the money to spare.

“We’re in dire straits,” said Sen. Rick Murphy, a Glendale Republican. “It seems like we have a lull right now, but a couple years from now, it’s going to be a mess if we don’t really be cautious.”

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