Advertisement

Archive for Friday, April 3, 1998

HIGHER-EDUCATION PLAN SINKING

April 3, 1998

Advertisement

The House's higher education reform plan is foundering in the Senate -- and with it goes the chance of increased higher education funding this year, say key supporters of the plan.

An ambitious plan to reform higher education in Kansas that carries $145 million in new money for state colleges is slowly sinking in the cold waters of the Senate.

Don't expect Rep. David Adkins, R-Leawood, one of the plan's architects, to be its lifeguard.

``I'm certainly not wasting much time trying to devise strategies to see that the bill gets passed this session,'' he said Thursday.

``The Senate has not expressed any interest in doing it this session, and I don't see any possibility the governor will be in any position to endorse it,'' he said.

Adkins was appointed by House Speaker Tim Shallenburger to chair the Select Committee on Higher Education, which drafted the plan.

Its key -- but most controversial -- element is scrapping the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state's six universities.

In its place would be a Council of Higher Education, which would govern the state universities and Topeka's Washburn University, which would become a state university.

The council also would coordinate the activities of the state's community colleges, area vocational schools and technical colleges, which would still be governed by local boards.

The plan, heavily criticized by the regents, has been referred to two Senate committees. Neither is expected to take action during the remaining six days of the regular legislative session.

``I don't think it's going to go anywhere,'' said Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence.

Praeger, who said she has kept an open mind on the issue, said there are some elements of the plan ``that are very meritorious.''

For example, she liked the part of the plan that shifted control of community colleges away from the State Board of Education.

``If we're going to get any kind of coordination done, they need to be a part of higher education,'' Praeger said.

Adkins, who said he was an ``ardent supporter of the regents system,'' said he has learned that higher education governance reform can't be accomplished unless the regents and the universities' officials take a stronger initiative in making changes.

``I believe the regents concluded early in this process that the House proposal was not going to be enacted and, therefore, they didn't need to become engaged in that process,'' Adkins said. ``I think that has worked to their detriment.''

The state's new revenue figures are to be announced today and are expected to show millions more dollars are available for the Legislature to spend.

However, Adkins predicted none will be earmarked for higher education because legislators won't provide more funding until the system is reformed, he said.

``It's just an opportunity that's been squandered,'' he said.

He predicted state universities ``will get their standard allocation.''

Rep. Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg, the ranking Democrat on the House higher education panel, also expressed frustration and disappointment.

McKechnie said he met Thursday with Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who told him Gov. Bill Graves won't support it. McKechnie said the governor's strongest opposition is to the money in the bill for universities -- not the amount allocated for community colleges.

``If I was Bill Graves I would be embarrassed,'' McKechnie said. ``To have the opportunity that he has had and to turn his back on higher education is an embarrassment.''

Adkins said he was disappointed that the regents didn't endorse any part of the plan.

He was particularly upset they didn't endorse a scholarship proposal that would have allowed any National Merit finalist from Kansas to attend state universities with tuition and fees paid for by the state.

``Simply speaking, the regents are going to have to work smarter than they did in this round if they want to be partners in crafting the ultimate solution,'' Adkins said. ``If the regents merely pursue a circle-the-wagons strategy, they may not be capable of helping us design a better proposal.''

Adkins also called for university patrons, particularly Kansas University officials, ``to take off their halos and get their hands dirty,'' he said.

He said he had heard from no more than five KU alumni, faculty or students about the relative merits of the plan.

``To some extent, those who don't like the plan may have gotten what they deserve,'' he said.

-- Dave Toplikar's phone message number is 832-7151. His e-mail address is toplikar@ljworld.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.