Del. Jason Miyares worked several jobs in college at James Madison University and graduated in 1998 with little debt.
Tuition in Virginia has increased 74 percent from 2006 to 2016, and Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, knows the times you could work your way through college are over.
Bills to cap tuition increases have all been killed or tabled for “study” in the General Assembly this year. Miyares carried the last bill that advocates thought could help: A requirement that college governing boards provide the public with a chance to comment at a board meeting prior to a vote to raise tuition and fees.
The bill, backed by the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, passed the House of Delegates 99-0. It was also supported by a new organization called Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.
In a bad omen for the bill, it was sent to the Finance Committee in the Senate. This is the committee to which bills with a fiscal impact on the state are referred, or bills lawmakers simply want to kill. Since requiring university trustees to hold a public comment period doesn’t cost anything, Miyares’ bill apparently was sent to Finance for the latter reason.
The committee previously killed a similar bill from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax.
Miyares made his pitch to the senators, calling the bill a simple transparency measure. He said 10 other states have adopted just such a move.
“I think everybody on this committee has heard from so many parents, and I hear it almost every day, ‘How are we going to pay for college?’ The anxiety. The ever-increasing bill.”
The bill was doomed, but the universities brought in their firepower just in case.
The University of Virginia’s Betsey Daley said board members are already engaged with parents and students throughout the year.
“One public hearing is not a substitute of a year-round engagement process that goes on at U.Va.,” she said. Daley is a familiar face to the Senate Finance Committee — she was the committee’s staff director for 15 years before leaving in October for the job as associate vice president for state government relations and special assistant to the president at University of Virginia.
A representative for the College of William & Mary reassured senators that the president and board, too, enjoy “year-round” engagement.
Numerous senators were absent or late in arriving Tuesday, but Miyares’ bill went down on a 6-4 vote.
James Toscano, president of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, issued a statement saying the senators missed an easy opportunity to let students and parents know they care.
“It’s bad enough that the cost of higher education in Virginia is spiraling out of control. But failing to ensure the voices of students and parents are heard before public appointees set tuition is a blow to good governance and transparency,” the statement said. “It’s disappointing to listen as publicly funded and governed institutions quash public input and exert control by limiting who is allowed to speak.”
Miyares said representatives from higher education killing sensible reforms will only lead to more anger, and questioned what they were afraid of.
“We allow public comment period for the milk commission,” he said.
Senators who voted against requiring the public comment period: Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax; Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg; Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier; and Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg.
Senators who were absent when the vote was taken: George Barker, D-Fairfax; Tommy Norment, R-James City; Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Bill Carrico, R-Grayson; Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico; and Richard Stuart, R-Stafford.
Senators who voted to require public comment: Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg; Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; and Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham.