With plans to lobby the U.S. Congress, 20 UCSB students will fly to Washington, D.C. tonight for the 37th Annual United States Student Association (USSA) National Grassroots Legislative Conference.
The trip, financed with $6,873 from Associated Students Legislative Council and $1,000 from A.S. Finance Board, includes a series of conferences, workshops and meetings regarding legislation affecting higher education programs. Conferees, however, will focus most of their attention to Congress’ upcoming revisions to the Higher Education Act (HEA), said A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Bill Shiebler.
Shiebler , a third-year sociology major, said the act provides federal funding for student aid.
“Congress is about to mark up the HEA,” Shiebler said. “We are seeing an opening for students to make some advances and defend some attacks against higher education. The majority of why we’re doing this stuff is for grant and aid programs.”
Six programs affecting students are slated to undergo cuts by Congress, which reviews the HEA every six to seven years, Shiebler said. In particular, the delegation hopes to help protect students’ easy access to voting information, registration and booths on campus, as stipulated in the act.
“Right now, the HEA says every university should make voting accessible to students,” Shiebler said. “We’re not sure if that would be gone, so it’s a priority for us. The changes [Congress makes] will be permanent for six to seven years.”
This year, Shiebler said, the UCSB budget for the conference received about one-third more money than usual in order to accommodate the increased number of students attending. The money, provided by the A.S. student lock-in fee, will be used to pay for airfare, registration and accommodation.
“Normally 10 to 11 people go, but this year there are 20,” Shiebler said. “I was willing to take as many people as we possibly could. The more people attending, the better, but the problem is always funding. [This year] Leg Council decided to give itself considerably more money than in the past.”
Attendees include members of Leg Council, A.S. Student Lobby and eight students not associated with student government, Shiebler said.
USSA conference attendees and others will stage a press conference on the steps of Capitol Hill on March 7, the day they plan to lobby Congress.
“There are scheduled to be 1,000 to 2,000 people there,” Shiebler said. “Labor and human rights organizations are upset about the cuts to education also, so there is a lot of coalition support for students. There will be 10 to 15 members of Congress speaking at the press conference.”
Because of the current political atmosphere, Shiebler said he is confident the students will be successful in lobbying Congress.
“This is a midterm election year and primaries are coming up,” Shiebler said. “People will be more hard-pressed to go against education issues.”