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Tuition Protest Small, Enthusiastic in Raleigh

Organizers had estimated a larger crowd than the 25 who attended, but those at the rally were joined at times by teenagers visiting the state capital with school groups.

Although the N.C. General Assembly does not officially convene until late May, some members of the appropriations committees began to work on next year's budget two weeks ago.

Holding signs reading, "Don't balance the budget on my back!" and, "Democracy for Sale," students and passers-by listened to speakers protesting what they see as a link between rising tuition at state universities and the need for campaign finance reform.

One toddler wore a sign reading, "Help! At this rate I will never be able to pay for college!"

The rally was organized by Dennis Markatos, a former UNC-Chapel Hill student and youth coordinator for the N.C. Common Cause Education Fund, in response to the recent UNC-system Board of Governors vote to increase tuition.

The BOG voted March 6 in favor of a systemwide 8 percent tuition increase for in-state students and a 12 percent increase for out-of-state students.

The board also voted to increase tuition at UNC-CH by $300, thus raising tuition by $486 for in-state students and $1,778 for out-of-state students.

Because all tuition increases must be approved by the General Assembly, students and speakers centered their protest on the legislature.

Andrew Payne, UNC-system Association of Student Governments president, accused state legislators of ignoring their constitutional mandate to fund higher education.

"We're sick and tired of these games that they play," he said. "You're either with us or you're against us. If you're against us, you better get out of the way because come November you're not going to be put back in office."

Holding a poster reading, "Honk for Campaign Finance Reform," UNC alumna Kristine Soriano waved to a man driving a blue plumber's truck as he tooted the horn.

"We need to get our priorities straight," she said. "Big money is so accessible to corporations, but education has to scrape the bottom of the bucket just to get enough money."

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, spoke in favor of campaign finance reform, telling students that the writers of the Bill of Rights guaranteed free speech regardless of wealth.

"I don't think they thought somebody should have $25 of free speech while someone else had $25,000 of free speech," she said.

Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of the Common Sense Foundation, said the message to the legislature is simple.

"Don't make students pay for tax breaks. Don't make families pay for loopholes," he said. "Don't put a college education out of the reach of North Carolina families."

Markatos said the rally was successful despite the low turnout because it helped get the participants' message across.

"We want to face this problem right now," he said. "It's all a matter of money -- are we going to get money from students, or are we going to get money from responsible taxation?"

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