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INDIANAPOLIS — A local college is spending money on lobbyists, even amid COVID-19 financial woes, a Call 6 Investigation found.
When COVID-19 hit in March, higher institutions in Indiana went to virtual-only instruction, which hurt enrollment at colleges like Ivy Tech Community College.
"Many students who did not want to attend virtually did drop out when they may not have otherwise done so,” said Mary Jane Michalak, Ivy Tech’s vice president of government relations.
But unlike many other colleges and universities in Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College is a commuter campus that doesn’t get revenue from sports, student housing, or meal plans.
Call 6 Investigates worked with our Scripps partners at Newsy to review congressional records and found Ivy Tech is the only higher education institution in Indiana that’s paid a lobbyist to fight for more coronavirus emergency aid.
Records show so far this year, Ivy Tech paid $20,000 to the law firm Krieg DeVault — an Indianapolis law firm with offices in Indiana and some southeastern states.
Mary Jane Michalak, vice president of government relations for Ivy Tech, said using a law firm allows them to access numerous experts on a variety of governmental and higher education issues.
Unlike many other Indiana colleges, Ivy Tech has only one person devoted to government relations — Michalak.
"I handle state and federal government relations, so we do hire an external firm to help me because I can't be in Washington DC all day,” Michalak said.
Michalak and their lobbyist talked to congressional leaders about the CARES Act and urged them to make sure Ivy Tech was included in any future stimulus packages.
"We are concerned about the federal government providing relief for students,” Michalak said. “We want to make sure there's enough money there to provide workforce and training programs to get people back to work."
Ivy Tech received $33 million in federal CARES Act money, including $16.5 million for students — most of which has already been distributed.
"Many students were not able to attend courses if they didn't have a computer,” said Michalak. “So we were able to provide our students with computers, something that was possible through the federal funding through the CARES Act."
Valarie Famuyiwa, an Ivy Tech student and mother, received $4,000 in CARES Act money from Ivy Tech.
She used it to buy a computer to do virtual learning, as well as pay off some of her debt.
"It was a major help for me,” Famuyiwa said. “I wasn’t expecting to get that much. Because of that relief, I was able to finish my summer semester with all A’s and I’m starting my own business so it helped with that as well."
Ivy Tech is not alone.
Congressional filings reviewed by our partners at Newsy show 80 schools of all sizes, private and public, paid lobbyists on COVID-19 related issues in the nation’s capital.
Ivy Tech has instituted a salary freeze for its staff, but Michalak said the college is financially stable.
The $20,000 spent on lobbyists is .009% of Ivy Tech’s overall budget, records show.
"It's the students who attend colleges and universities that we need to be concerned about,” Michalak said. “We need to make sure our Hoosiers are taken care of."