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Archive for Wednesday, April 28, 1999

CONFERENCE COMMITTEE PASSES HIGHER ED REFORM BILL

April 28, 1999

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— Reform of the state's higher education system, which includes KU, moved closer to reality at a conference committee meeting.

Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, felt the pendulum of history shift Tuesday when a conference committee endorsed a bill that would reform higher education in Kansas.

If this House-Senate compromise is embraced by the full Legislature and Gov. Bill Graves, it would end a quarter century of wrangling over coordination of the Kansas system of colleges and universities.

"Everything in higher education needs to be under one agency," said Tanner, a member of the conference committee and a key advocate of reform. "We need to sign off the same page."

Sen. Barbara Lawrence, a Wichita Republican and chair of the conference committee, said much thought went into the bill.

"This is not a perfect document," she said. "It comes close. This is a big step."

Under the bill, the nine-member Kansas Board of Regents would be restructured to assume higher education responsibilities currently handled by the Kansas State Board of Education.

The new Board of Regents would be reconstituted by July and divided into three commissions -- one to govern regents universities, including Kansas University; one to oversee community colleges, vocational schools and Washburn University; and one to provide coordination and conflict resolution for the new unified group of institutions.

One threat to reform is a controversial measure formulated in the House to infuse $83 million into participating schools.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat and KU administrator, said she was troubled by the prospect of earmarking such a huge slice of budget pie.

"I want to know where you're going to find approximately $80 million," she said. "I realize something has to happen ... but we need to know the money is there."

In the higher education community, foes of reform -- specifically trustees at Johnson County Community College -- expressed concern about potential loss of local control of community colleges to the Board of Regents.

Tanner said there was nothing in the bill that diminished local jurisdiction.

"They have a tremendous amount of misinformation running around on the board of trustees," he said. "It won't drag them down."

The bill, passed 6-0 by the conference committee, didn't extend the implementation date until next year as some had urged. The bill does contain a provision limiting the number of people on the Board of Regents who earned undergraduate degrees at KU to a maximum of three.

Tanner, former president of Baker University, said the amendment was pushed by Wichita-area legislators unhappy about the perception of excessive influence by KU graduates on higher education affairs. Two-thirds of the board's current members have degrees from KU.

"That was done to promote greater diversity of academic undergraduate experience," Tanner said.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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