Last-minute action that trimmed the Kansas Board of Regents budget passed earlier in the session was one of the major disappointments of an overall disappointing 1990 Kansas Legislature.
Late Saturday night, desperate to end their marathon session, legislators searched for budget cuts to restore an estimated $100 million to the state's projected ending balances. Although many state programs, including highways, were left intact, legislators took a knife to the regents budget they had passed earlier and cut off about $7 million.
The budget reductions will not place next year's budget below this year's level, but it probably will mean smaller raises for faculty and staff and less money for operating expenses.
More than that, it represents a general lack of concern for the state's system of higher education. Several funds, including highways, public schools and aid to local governments, were declared off-limits for cuts. But universities apparently were open game.
And the reductions at the end of the session came on top of an earlier decision to delay perhaps indefinitely the third year of the state's Margin of Excellence, a program designed to bring faculty salaries and equipment at Kansas universities closer to the level of their peer institutions.
It also came at a time when regents have been forced to consider more increases in tuition rates. The legislative attitude toward state universities this year leaves little question about why universities are having to depend more on private giving and higher tuition to support their operations. KU has been lucky to have strong and growing support from private sources, but students are beginning to voice opposition to frequent tuition increases.
Legislators refuse to allow any system of selective admissions based on academic preparedness, saying all Kansas high school graduates should have an equal opportunity to attend a state university. Yet a lack of state funding may eventually limit access to students who can't afford the tuition to attend a state university in Kansas.
Legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, across the state are quick to tell constituents how much they support adequate fiscal support for education and how they realize that to a large degree the future progress of the state depends on the quality of education programs provided for young men and women of the state. This sounds good on the campaign circuit, but when it comes to standing firm on funding for education higher education in particular the majority of these lawmakers find it easy to OK reductions in higher education budgets.
Now that the 1990 legislative session is over, many legislators will be doing everything they can to try to tell their constituents and those in education circles how hard they fought on behalf of education.
Don't believe it.
It's the same old game, and it's a sure bet these same legislators who didn't demand and vote for badly needed funding for higher education will start capaigning for re-election by pledging their full commitment to adequate fiscal support for the state's schools, for higher education in general, for the regents institutions and the Margin of Excellence.
Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the 1990 legislature leave much to be desired.
Higher education is vital to the state. In the long run, it may attract enough people and industries to the state to help ease the property tax burden on current state residents. It's short-sighted to consider the regents system an easy target for emergency funding cuts.