About a dozen college students this afternoon ended a 96-mile, 60-hour journey to the Capitol steps.
They walked from Mankato to St. Paul (for the second time) to protest cuts in state aid to higher education.
Gov. Mark Dayton and a number of lawmakers, including House Higher Education committee Chairman Bud Nornes, met the group on the Capitol steps.
The House and Senate aim to cut higher-education funding by an additional $300 million this year, which would roll back state aid to Minnesota’s two largest university systems to pre-2000 levels. The shape of those cuts is being worked out in conference committee, which is scheduled to meet this afternoon.
Dayton held a forum on higher education cuts earlier this session to “put faces” to the numbers on a spreadsheet as Republicans trim Minnesota’s $5 billion budget deficit. On Thursday, he praised the students’ determination to complete their journey.
“You’re doing a superb job to champion your causes,” said Dayton, whose budget cuts much less than the House and Senate proposals.
He then opened up the event for comments from the kids.
Tom Williams, a social studies/education major, simply replied: “Go see what you can do.”
“I’ll put my feet and knees to the test any day as long as the message gets heard,” he said, which drew a smile from Sheila Wright, director of the state Office of Higher Education.
Moriah Miles — spelled, she said, “like the ones we just walked” — said it’s important to show lawmakers that students are taking an active part in their future and not sitting “with our noses stuck in our textbooks.”
Miles, vice president of the Minnesota State Student Association, and her friends walked about 30 miles a day for three days to make the trip.
“It’s important to help [legislators] realize that we need to be invested in, that education needs to be invested in,” she said.