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Monday March 19, 2001

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UA students lobby Capitol Hill to decrease student debt

By Emily Severson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona's representatives, senators generally supportive

While some UA students spent their Spring Break partying or relaxing with family, members of ASA were busy lobbying Arizona's federal representatives in Washington, D.C.

Arizona Student Association members met with Republican Sens. John McCain and John Kyl's educational staff, as well as four of Arizona's six U.S. House representatives, said Kelly Dalton, an ASA director.

ASA wants an increase in Pell Grant money to combat the continual rise in tuition, fees, books and cost associated with attending college. They said the current maximum Pell Grant award of $3,300 covers 39 percent of the cost of attending a four-year university.

Dalton, who had gone to Capitol Hill twice before to lobby for students' interests, said this trip stood out in her mind because they were able to meet face-to-face with more representatives.

Paul Peterson, ASA executive director, said the trip is significant because it is the only formal meetings that ASA have in Washington D.C.

"We really try to talk about all our important issues to relevant people while we are there," Peterson said.

"In general, it is important for us to raise awareness on education issues at the federal level," he added.

The biggest issues were loan forgiveness for teachers, full funding of the Federal Pell Grant Program and student loan interest deductions, Peterson said.

The ASA members met with Republican Reps. Jim Kolbe, Bob Stump and J.D. Hayworth and Democrat Rep. Ed Pastor individually, and met with Republican Reps. John B. Shadegg and Jeff Flake's educational staff.

Dalton also said she thought this year was especially successful because the federal representatives they met with were well informed on ASA's priorities.

The increase ASA wants in Pell Grants would be boosted by the Pell Grant Full Funding Act. The House bill would make federal budget surplus available to education.

ASA lobbied for the Student Loan Interest Deduction Senate bill, which would allow students who take out loans to deduct the interest on their federal tax return for the lifetime of their loans, instead of the 60 months currently allowed.

The Senate Quality Teacher Recruitment Act was another one of ASA's federal priorities. It would increase the maximum-amount loans repaid by the Department of Education from $1,750 to $5,000.

ASA also lobbied for the Loan Forgiveness for Math and Science Teachers Act, which would provide middle and high school math and science teachers up to $10,000 in additional loan cancellations.

Dalton said the main concept they wanted to get across to the legislators was that students are graduating with more debt.

University of Arizona President Ben Graff and ASUA President-elect Ray Quintero, also an ASA director, met with Kolbe and Flake.

Graff said Kolbe supported their priorities for the most part, but questioned whether the student loan interest deduction was necessary because the 60 month period was based on the average time it takes college graduates to settle into a steady income job.

"No one can deny our issues' importance," Graff said. "ASA has the advantage of walking into these meetings with a higher education halo. We just hope that we can convince someone who doesn't have education on his table to consider it."

Thirteen ASA members - including four from the UA - left last Monday for the annual trip and stayed for three days.

Graff said he thought increasing funding for Pell Grants would be beneficial to students because it is free aid.

"Our strongest cry is that the burden of higher education should fall on the government and not on the students," he said.

Graff added it was essential to lobby at the federal level because the average student graduates with $18,000 debt, and the amount of money the state funds for grants has decreased by 22 percent since 1993.