Governor expected to sign the bill this week
Junior fine arts major Amelia Draizin spends up to $650 per semester on textbooks.
Draizin said she believes the high cost of textbooks is unacceptable, and she appreciates the actions taken by state legislators to decrease the cost of textbooks in Colorado.
“[Publishers] shouldn’t keep coming up with new textbook editions ever year that have one minor detail changed in them,” she said. “It’s horrible.”
Last Friday, the state Senate passed an amended version of the Textbook Affordability Act, which will be heading to Gov. Ritter’s desk this week.
The legislation passed in both houses of the Colorado General Assembly this month with only four dissenting votes in each the House and Senate.
If signed, the Act would require the publishers of college textbooks to “make immediately available on its Web site and to faculty members at state institutions of higher education information concerning the price of textbooks, history of substantive revisions and estimated length of time the publisher intends to keep the textbooks on the market,” according to the bill’s summary.
The act also requires that publishers of bundled textbook packages offer the opportunity to students to buy the individual products separately so students are not forced to purchase unwanted supplementary texts or multimedia.
State Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, co-authored the bill with state Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.
Tupa said he was expecting more opposition than he received from the publishing industry. He attributes the success of the bill to the Associated Students of Colorado, the representative governing body for all higher education students in Colorado, comprised of members from college student governments from across the state, including the University of Colorado Student Union.
An early draft of the bill, which is now heading to Gov. Ritter, was written by Aaron “Jack” Wylie, president of Metro State University of Colorado’s Student Government Assembly and ASC director of legislative affairs.
Wylie and other students across the state, including Gov. Ritter’s son August Ritter, have been actively lobbying for and supporting the bill since Tupa introduced it to the state Senate in January.
“It was very gratifying to know that this was an issue that resonated with my colleagues,” Tupa said. “They were obviously hearing from both students and their parents about the high cost of education. I think they saw this bill for what it was, and that is just one way that we can address the high cost of education in Colorado.”
Research has shown that the typical college student spends $500 to a $1,000 dollars per year on college textbooks and supplemental education materials, Tupa said. Before the bill was introduced to the Senate, Tupa said he received dozens of e-mails from students, parents and professors “weighing in” on the issue.
“Overwhelmingly, people were supportive,” Tupa said. “A very small minority were opposed, and most of them were not opposed to the concept, they just thought it wouldn’t have an impact.”
But Tupa said he believes the impact will be significant.
“I think this bill will save literally hundreds of dollars,” he said. “It will save at least $200 dollars per student and possibly more. Every little bit helps. I think this is a very creative and innovative way that was brought to me by the students themselves and I was very happy to carry it. It demonstrated that when you can get hundreds of college students across the state focused on an issue, the impact to the legislative process can be quite significant.”
Rep. Alice Madden, the Democratic state House majority leader from Boulder, spoke before the bill was voted on in the House, saying that higher education is an important issue in the state of Colorado.
“Because Colorado has TABOR, we have a unique situation about how we fund higher education,” Madden said. “Unfortunately, higher ed becomes the one budget line that is discretionary. If we have to cut, higher ed is where we cut.
In that respect, Madden said she supports the Textbook Affordability Act, which she voted for when it passed its third reading in the House on March 11.
“You don’t want kids having to buy a new textbooks because a paragraph was changed so the publishers can make more money,” she said. “I think there are ways we can protect on the cost side, aside from the tuition discussion.”
But not every one is convinced by Tupa. Reps. Doug Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, and Joel Judd, D-Denver, were among the four representatives that voted against the legislation in the state House.
In an e-mail interview, Bruce called the act a “cruel hoax.” In a later interview, Bruce expanded on why he refused to vote for the act, on grounds that it allegedly violates the freedom of the press outlined in the First Amendment.
“The press includes anybody that publishes printed material,” Bruce said. “It doesn’t exclude textbooks. It isn’t just newspapers. Any publisher is part of the press as far as I am concerned. What a silly thing that they require the publishers to disclose the price (of textbooks) in the bill.”
Bruce said that the legislators that voted for the bill wanted to look like they were standing up for people, and that if the price is too high for students, that they simply should not purchase the textbooks.
“That’s how a market works,” Bruce said. “Consumers, if they don’t have enough information to buy the textbooks, won’t buy them. You know why they’re required to buy textbooks, because they’re in government schools.”
The government has a “virtual monopoly” in Colorado on higher education, Bruce said.
“(Students) chose to go to that school, didn’t they?” he said. “They just didn’t have much of a choice to go to other schools. They are the victims of a government monopoly.”
Bruce added that the act attempts to solve a problem that does not exist. He said the government should stop passing laws telling private businesses what they should or should not do, and that they should let private business “flourish.”
“We shouldn’t be telling private businesses that it’s a crime not to furnish (prices and information on textbooks),” Bruce said.
Bruce concluded that the general reaction to this bill, if signed by Gov. Ritter, would be “total unawareness.”
“This is a monumental bill,” Bruce said. “This is more insider baseball. They want to come out as being in favor of affordable textbooks, just like they want to come out as in favor of affordable health care or affordable housing. It’s just another government publicity stunt. There is no proof that this makes textbooks $1 more affordable than before. None.”
Rep. Judd was the sole Democrat in the House to vote against the legislation. Judd said he voted against the bill because he believes it is an empty sentiment. While he said that he supports aid to higher education funding, he does not believe this bill is tough enough to make any viable impact.
“What we do in the legislature is we sometimes have resolutions that say the genocide in Rwanda is a bad thing,” he said. “They don’t have any force or effect. We just call those letters to Santa Claus. This bill supposedly is a little more forceful than a resolution like that, but there is no enforcement. It’s basically an empty sentiment on the part of the legislature.”
While Judd has voted for these “statement of sentiments” before, he decided he was not going to vote for this particular bill.
“The sponsors of this bill took on a very difficult task,” Judd said. “It is very challenging to try and legislate in this area, to mandate and control the price of something. Ultimately, the market controls prices. Legislation, in the end, is not a very effective tool for trying to get lower prices. All we can effectively do is make information better available.”
Judd also commended Tupa and Kefalas for attempting to achieve the “impossible” in their legislation, and that if the bill could promise any effective change, he would support it. He added that he thinks student involvement in the legislative process is “very exciting.”
“I know what I’m doing is raining on parades, and I try not to do that,” Judd said. “As feel-good at the bill is, the way I read it is that it doesn’t actually change anything. But it’s a nice sentiment.”
Colorado funds higher education at a lower level than almost every other state in the country. Judd said that is about the same level that the state funds about every other area.
“We choose to tax ourselves at a very, very low level,” Judd said. “The consequence is that we fund everything we do at a very low level. We still provide for three major universities and various state and community colleges. We get the money by extracting as much money as we possibly can from the students. I’m not very proud of the level that we have developed over the years. It’s a lot bigger problem than the amount being paid for textbooks.”
Judd, Madden and Tupa also addressed Ritter’s proposal to increase severance taxes on oil and mineral extraction and diverting those funds to higher education.
Judd said he is in favor of such projects, as they are more effective than legislating the price of textbooks, but said he was worried about the reaction oil and gas companies would have against such legislation and the political sway they might impose.
“I think (Ritter) is very much on the right track,” Judd said. “I hope he can pull that together. I know he is working very hard to get the oil and gas companies to come on board with this.”
Tupa also said he supported the idea.
“I’ll certainly be supporting those measures,” Tupa said. “(The Textbook Affordability Act) was just one small battle in a much bigger war on adequate funding for higher education. The state of Colorado does a very poor job funding higher ed. We are one of the worst states in terms of higher ed funding when you factor in state and local support. The next battle is securing better funding.”
Madden added that increased severance taxes on oil and gas will bring a significant amount of revenue that could be used to fund higher education, similar to that in Wyoming, which has an 11.2 percent oil and gas tax that has helped them fund education.
“Our rate is approximately 5.5 percent,” Madden said. “We also give the oil and gas companies a tax credit. So, that will be our source of new money. It will probably be $250 million a year and there will be a dog fight over that money. Every entity in the state will be fighting on how to divvy that money up.”
Madden pointed out that increased severance taxes is still just discussion at this point.
Tupa said he is also planning to introduce a state constitutional amendment that utilizes limited stakes gaming, such as the kind that takes place in Black Hawk, Cripple Creek and Central City, to help fund higher education.
“If you raise the stakes- make betting limits higher- you’ll make tens of millions of dollars a year, and you can divert that to higher education,” Tupa said.
Tupa and Judd said they believe the governor will sign the Textbook Affordability Act into law. Tupa has requested a signing ceremony for later this week.
At CU, the general sentiment toward the legislation is a positive one.
Pamela Mills, director of the CU Book Store said that she is for the bill.
“I think (the Textbook Affordability Act) is a good thing,” Mills said. “I think it is important for the faculty to understand what they are adopting, not only the title and the content, but the price, how long ago it was revised, when it might be revised again, how it’s bundled and how it comes to the students.”
Mills said that she is not sure what financial impact the bill will have, but that she already attempts to inform the faculty of the prices of textbooks, which sometimes comes as a surprise to them.
“The book store doesn’t make the decision on what is chosen for a class,” she said. “We simply implement and facilitate as liaison between the faculty and student. We simply try to get in what the faculty thinks the student should have, and we try to do our very best to keep the prices as low as we can. We’re a non-profit, so we’re here to serve students.”
Professor Darna Dufour of the anthropology department said most of the faculty already takes into account the financial aspect of textbooks when they assign them each term.
“Sometimes I end up buying expensive textbooks because I think they have been revised, and that’s not always the case,” Dufour said. “It’s kind of a balancing act. Sometimes I (order) an expensive textbook because I thought there were significant changes in content. If I hadn’t thought there were changes, I would have ordered an earlier edition or a partial edition.”
Dufour said that most faculty members take the price of textbooks into consideration when ordering them. She said she thinks the faculty will be fine with the legislation.
“The publishers don’t seem at all concerned about the cost,” Dufour said. “They don’t seem to be working to keep the costs down. The publishers are gaming it. That’s why they do such frequent revisions and bundle all these things together. They always ask the faculty what they want for supplementary materials. I’ve never asked for supplementary materials. I don’t need all this other crap they’re selling with it.”
Hadley Brown, who serves as both Tri-executive for UCSU and vice chair for ASC, said the legislation is a beginning for Colorado’s higher education students to become involved in the political process.
“There is a lot of concern on how it is going to be enforced,” said Brown, a senior English major. “I think that is a legitimate concern. What we have been saying is that this is not the silver bullet, the fix-all solution, but it is a way for students to get their foot in the door on this issue. It’s a start, and it establishes the ASC as a legitimate organization and as a student advocate.”
Brown said for the Textbook Affordability Act to be effective, more legislation and student involvement will be necessary down the line.
“We’re just talking about textbooks, but this was a student driven initiative,” Brown said. “Students can do the same thing with bigger issues such as higher education in general in the state of Colorado. This is about student empowerment and students taking action.”
Contact Campus Press News Editor Brandon Springer at firstname.lastname@example.org.