ATLANTA -- About 150 university and college students across Georgia rallied outside the Capitol building Friday morning to protest budget cuts to higher education.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed cutting $64 million from the University System of Georgia in 2005 and the Board of Regents is considering a 10 percent mid-year tuition this week.
Rick Lasseter, Valdosta State University Student Government Association parliamentarian, and representatives from several schools including the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology and Kennesaw State, addressed the crowd.
"Leaders are being born every single day in this state, at our universities, our colleges and our technical schools," Lasseter said. "How can we expect these leaders to lead Georgia to a stronger tomorrow when the governor proposes budget cuts when they don't have the resources to do what they need to do?"
Representatives from the different schools walked into the Capitol and hand-delivered petitions, signed by students who oppose the budget cuts, to a secretary in the governor's office.
Mallory Grebel, UGA SGA vice president, said 32 universities and colleges across Georgia collected 34,958 signatures. This is about 14 percent of the 247,020 students who are enrolled in public colleges and universities in Georgia.
Jason Lewis, VSU's SGA president, said about 650 VSU students signed petitions. This is about 6.5 percent of the students enrolled at VSU.
The remaining crowd outside the Capitol repeatedly shouted "education" and "no more budget cuts."
Perdue was not at the Capitol during the rally. The governor visited Lake Park Friday for a campaign fund-raiser for Norman Bennett, State House District 174 candidate.
"I'm not surprised that he wasn't here," Lasseter said. "The nature of the budget cuts represents how he cares about students anyway. It's what you can expect from someone who develops a budget like that."
Lasseter said he thought the protest went well, but he was upset that more students didn't come, especially from the Atlanta area.
"The apathy isn't only at VSU," Lasseter said. "There should have been 100 people represented from each of those schools in Atlanta. I don't understand why there aren't more Atlanta area students here, given the number of students in the area."
Many students said they are frustrated with the budget cuts coming at a time when enrollment at colleges and universities in Georgia is increasing.
"I'm frustrated because it affects us directly," said Amanda Solberg, a member of the VSU College Democrats. "We don't have a voice and we all need to have a voice. Education is the most important investment people can make in us. Without education we aren't anything."
The University System of Georgia's budget has been cut by $382 million since 2001. During this time, VSU has cut $9 million and will have to cut an additional $1.8 million in January.
Lasseter said there needs to be a meeting held at VSU to make students more aware of the budget cuts and how they are affected by them.
"We need to have something on campus," he said. "If they don't think the budget cuts will affect them, they are wrong. They should look at future students as people that need to be taken care of."
Melissa Ogle, secretary for the VSU College Democrats, said she is worried about how the budget cuts will affect her and her siblings.
"I'll be in school for another semester, and I have a brother and sister going to school and it seems like they should be taking money out of everywhere else besides education," she said.
Lasseter said there is already another protest in the works and Mary Ballew, president of the VSU College Democrats, is for it.
"It's important to demand and let the government know that they need to care about higher education," Ballew said.
Perdue has reduced the higher education budget cut to the University System of Georgia from $68.7 million to $64 million after hearing from college administrators, according to www.georgia.gov.
Last weekend during a meeting with student leaders, Perdue said he disagrees with the 10 percent mid-year tuition increase being considered by the Board of Regents, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Perdue said tuition doesn't have to increased in January if colleges and universities trimmed some fat and became more efficient.
University System Chancellor Thomas Meredith said during September's Board of Regents meeting that he will propose the 10 percent mid-year tuition increase during the Board of Regents' meeting in October.
The Board of Regents is meeting today and Wednesday at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
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