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Defend My Degree rally draws students and speakers statewide
By Shelby Brown–
Kentucky public university students rallied at the Capitol Feb. 13 for higher education issues.
The rally, led by Murray State’s SGA President Clinton Combs, focused on multiple bills being discussed this session.
“There’s a lot of problematic bills,” U of L junior Robyn Anne Franklin said. “Especially related to higher education and also to students, like the transphobic bathroom bill.”
Legislation discussed included:
- HB106– Public accommodations.
- HB 118– Early and absentee voting.
- HB 126– Student rights.
- HB 127– Student freedom of speech.
- HB 249– Campus concealed carry.
- SB 7– allows carrying of concealed firearms without a license.
- SB 17– Expression of religious and political views in public schools and public post secondary universities.
- SB 107– Board appointments and gubernatorial authority.
Another topic of discussion was the Powerball promise. The Powerball promise is the tradition of sending money from the lottery to education funds. State Representative James Kay attempted to restore $40 million to need-based college scholarship funds last year, but it was vetoed by Governor Matt Bevin.
Jay Todd Richey, WKU’s student body president, described the lottery fund as a “piggy bank” for legislators and issued a call to arms for students.
“15,000 students without the financial aid they need is unacceptable,” Richey said. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and fix it.”
EKU student Ryan Wiggins has witnessed the effects of radical budget cuts first hand and asked legislators invest in students.
“Higher education shouldn’t be a luck-of-the-draw privilege,” Wiggins said. “The Capitol needs to know we don’t approve of these cuts, and the Powerball promise needs to be fulfilled.”
U of L junior Chris Bird compared the structure of the university using an architecture metaphor. Bird said that while the building may be a “top-down design, the roots spread far and wide.”
“The further you travel down the structure, (the) stronger it is to hold everything up above it,” Bird said. “We keep doing our job. We ask you to do the same. I ask lawmakers to remember who they represent.”
Multiple state government officials spoke at the rally.
“Higher education is what puts Kentucky back on solid ground,” Secretary of State Alison Grimes said. “When they tell you to sit down, I hope you stand up.”
Attorney General Andy Beshear said the solution to wage gaps, unemployment and job deficits is more college degrees.
“For my friends at U of L, some permanent damage may have been done,” Beshear said, referring to recent accreditation issues. “That’s a black eye you did not deserve.”
Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles encouraged speakers not to “point fingers,” but to take action. Quarles challenged the audience to know their representatives.
Senator David Givens announced this session would discuss performance-based funding, where performance metrics would determine colleges’ funding. SB 153, which pertains to performance-based funding, was introduced Feb. 10.
“We should be rewarding excellence,” Givens said. “It’s a win, win, win.”
U of L SGA President Aaron Vance was pleased with the rally’s turnout.
“I hope the message resonates. I hope it really does sit well with people like the governor and everyone in both chambers as we continue to work to invest more in higher education and to attain the individual autonomy of our state schools,” Vance said.
Gov. Matt Bevin was not present for the rally.
U of L student Carolecia Mobley saw a lack of representation at the rally.
“I would’ve liked to have heard more about the minority groups, but overall I think it was a progressive thing to do for the community,” Mobley said.
Photo by Shelby Brown / The Louisville Cardinal