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Archive for Sunday, March 15, 1998

LAWMAKERS DEBATE HIGHER-ED BILL

March 15, 1998

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A higher education reform bill should provide more accountability for community colleges, say area legislators.

Douglas County state legislators were critical Saturday morning of a higher education reform plan expected to come up for debate this week in the Kansas House.

``I am bitterly disappointed,'' Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, said about the plan. ``It just falls short of getting the job done.''

Also, Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, said he was ``skeptically optimistic'' about the $140 million controversial reform plan, which includes scrapping the existing Kansas Board of Regents and replacing it with a Council on Higher Education.

``I still need to be convinced this is the way to do it,'' Findley said at Saturday morning's ``Eggs and Issues'' breakfast, sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Journal-World and Southwestern Bell at the Lawrence Holidome.

Eighty-two people attended, including a few Central Junior High School students in a political science class.

The higher education bill is scheduled to come up for debate Tuesday in the Kansas House.

The plan, which is endorsed by House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, would replace the board of regents, which now oversees the state's six universities, with a new council that would govern and coordinate those six and Topeka's Washburn University, which would become a state university. The new council would also coordinate the state's community colleges, area vocational schools and technical colleges. Those entities would still be governed by their local boards.

Under the plan, the state would provide property tax relief for cities and counties now funding community colleges, provide salary increases to university faculty and increase funding for programs of excellence.

Tanner's remarks against the plan drew applause.

``I am not willing to vote on $140 million worth of gifts to community colleges, which, in essence, amounts to tax relief for counties with community colleges and for Shawnee County and Topeka, without a quid pro quo,'' Tanner said. ``I want an organization that can demand some accountability from community colleges. And I won't vote for the bill until that is in there.''

Tanner said the House speaker has put him and other Republicans in ``a very tough spot.''

Tanner said he is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon with Shallenburger, who will leave the House after this session to run for state treasurer.

Tanner planned to tell Shallenburger ``if he is going to be remembered by a single bill, this is the wrong one.''

During the meeting, Findley read a note from Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, who couldn't attend, that stated she was ``cautiously optimistic'' about the higher education reform bill.

Findley told the gathering ``there are good points'' in the bill, including the parts that raise faculty salaries to peer levels and provide funding for program enhancements and technology.

However, ``unless they change, particularly, the accountability as it pertains to community colleges, it's going to be very tough to get some of our votes on that,'' Findley said.

After the breakfast meeting, Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said he was leaning toward supporting the bill -- ``not because it's perfect,'' but because it's the first chance the full House has had to address the reform issue.

``If the Senate works the bill they can improve it,'' Sloan said.

Also after the meeting, Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said she was in favor of the goal of reform but wasn't satisfied with the committee's bill.

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

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