UNA students rally for greater funding from Alabama education budget

UNA Students rally for greater funding for Alabama’s public universities at the Higher Education Day rally in Montgomery April 9. The annual event includes a parade to the state capitol building. SGA provides transportation for students who attend the event each year.

The streets of Montgomery roared with the sound of college students chanting “one-third, one-third, one-third” during Higher Education Day April 9.

“One-third” stands for the portion of the state education budget students from Alabama’s public universities demand from the legislature.

Alabama is one of two states operating with two budgets: one for education and one for all other expenses. Those at the rally asked legislators to give higher education one-third of the education budget and K-12 two-thirds.

“We support our K-12 schools,” said Gordon Stone, executive director of Higher Education Partnership. “We just want our one-third.”

Thirty-nine UNA students and hundreds of others from around Alabama attended the Higher Education Day rally, which took place on the front steps of the legislative building while lawmakers inside worked to balance the state budget.

Stone said the rally had three purposes.

“First, we are going to say ‘no’ when it comes to taking money from the education fund,” Stone said. “We’re going to say ‘yes’ when it comes to investing in universities.”

He said for every $1,000 invested in higher education, Alabama’s overall income increases by $8.7 million.

“Alabama’s universities change lives, and they are worth supporting,” he said.

Senior Zhenying Zhai said she was impressed by how passionate students at the rally were about the budget.

She said everyone was active and engaged in the rally, which was like nothing she had ever seen before.

Stone told students the quest for greater funding cannot stop when the rally ends.

“We must fight it with a combined voice that tells our story, and that story represents you,” he said, challenging students to contact their legislators about increasing funding.

“Anybody here ready to make a decision? Anybody here ready to commit to making a difference for your university?”

After the rally, Rep. Lynn Greer, who represents UNA and other areas in Lauderdale County, met with UNA students and answered their questions about state government and funding for higher education.

“I’ve got special interest at UNA,” Greer said. “My granddaughter is a freshman. Y’all keep us straight. If you don’t get your fair share of the money, let us know.”

University officials said funding for UNA typically falls well below many other Alabama colleges.

“I think it is really important that we get down here and our legislators hear us out because they represent us,” said senior SGA President KeKoria Greer. “I am very thankful that Rep. Greer took time to meet with us and hear our concerns.”

SGA President-elect Nick Lang and Legislative Affairs Chairman Alec Prince said they believe the day was a success.

“The goal of the day is to get students down here to let everyone know the importance of higher education funding,” Lang said. “The atmosphere was good, we had all the schools here to participate and we had plenty of UNA students. Overall I think today went great.”

The Higher Education Partnership represents universities in Alabama, but its goal is to remind students they have the power to influence government, according to the partnership’s website.

The rally does that, Prince said.

“Gordon Stone does a great job representing us as universities,” he said. “A lot of new UNA students came to Higher Education Day, and I feel like they had a really positive experience on their first trip.”

Prince said he hopes Higher Education Day will inspire students to take a more active role with government on issues they are passionate about.