Taxpayers Fund Out-Of-State Students

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Taxpayers Fund Out-Of-State Students

by Ari Armstrong, October 6, 2005

Everybody who pays taxes should try to read the budget at least once. This year's "long bill," SB05-209, is 360 pages long. Rowling it is not. Reading it can be a bizarre experience. All of the line-items are broad expenditures that encompass many individual expenditures. So you can read the budget and still not have much idea where your money is really going.

The section for the Department of Higher Education includes a number of items that don't obviously have anything to do with higher education. For instance, there's the "Statewide Preservation Grant Program." The Cumbres and Toltec Railroad Commission is listed for $10,000 of general funds. Both those expenses are listed under "State Historical Society." The Council on the Arts is funded in this section. Then there's Colorado First Customized Job Training.

At least the "Colorado Commission on Higher Education Financial Aid" has something directly to do with higher education. The top item is over $50 million of general funds for need-based grants. Then merit-based grants, work study, and "Special Purpose."

The largest item under "Special Purpose" is an expense of $7,299,164 for "Native American Students / Fort Lewis College" (page 77). That struck me as peculiar, so I did a little more digging.

On July 1, I called Diane Lindner, who is the Budget and Financial Aid Director for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Here's what she said about the entry. "It's a treaty agreement that Colorado entered in, I don't know how many years ago. And Colorado is required under that treaty to pay for tuition of eligible Native-American students, regardless of where they're from... There's usually between 780 and 820 students."

That works out to around $9,000 per student for the year. I asked her how much it costs to go to Fort Lewis.

Lindner replied, "I think it's just tuition and fees... But you have to remember they're out-of-state students as well."

I asked, "I'm just trying to figure out how come Colorado ends up paying out-of-state students to attend our [colleges]."

Lindner said, "At one point we had discussed with... the Congressional delegation from here -- that was before Ben Nighthorse Campbell left office -- about the possibility of getting that picked up federally, but that didn't happen."

I asked her whether it was a federal treaty and how Colorado ended up picking up the tab. At the time we didn't figure out all that history. Lindner did say she thought Fort Lewis used to be a Native-American school.

In a follow-up e-mail, Lindner stated: "I have the following info for you and am assuming you have access to the statutes.
The statutory authorization for the reimbursement is: C.R.S. 23-52-105
The number of eligible students in 04-05 was 730
The tuition for resident undergraduate students at FLC was $2,270
The tuition for nonresident students was $11,862"

The college's web page offers a few more clues: "Fort Lewis College is named for Fort Lewis, a U.S. Army Post established in 1878 at Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Two years later, the military post moved to Hesperus, Colorado, a location more central to Indian settlements and pioneer communities. The U.S. government abandoned the site as a military post in 1891 and, in its place, established Fort Lewis as a school offering free education to Native American students. By 1911, Congress had deeded the Hesperus site to the State of Colorado, which then established a high school of agriculture under the supervision of the State Board of Agriculture. The school began to offer some college-level courses in 1925 and, in 1933, Fort Lewis began to offer college courses exclusively. In 1948, Fort Lewis was officially designated a junior college with its own president. Fort Lewis moved to the Durango campus in 1956."

Finally I found a document from 2004 titled, "Native American Tuition Waiver Briefing Paper." It states that Congress passed an Act in 1910 that stated, "There is hereby granted to the State of Colorado, upon the terms and conditions hereinafter named, the property known as the Fort Lewis School, including the lands and buildings, and fixtures pertaining to said school; Provided, that said lands and buildings shall be held and maintained by the State of Colorado as an institution of learning, and that Indian pupils shall at all times be admitted to such school free of charge for tuition and on terms of equality with white pupils..."

So apparently Colorado is not obligated by a treaty; the state agreed to assume the property on conditions established by Congress.

How many Coloradans know the history behind that little line-item of the budget?

Of course, it's an interesting question how people in 1910 (and, in the case of Colorado Governor John Shaforth, 1911), can impose financial obligations on people 95 years into the future.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com