Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2000

Look to the future

December 24, 2000

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New Kansas House committees may produce a more thoughtful approach to higher education and other issues looming in the state's future.

Some new committees being formed for the upcoming session in the Kansas House may prove to be beneficial for higher education and other state responsibilities.

House Speaker Kent Glasscock, a moderate Republican from Manhattan, announced last week that he would create a new House Higher Education Committee to focus exclusively on issues related to post-secondary education in Kansas. The House Education Committee will continue to deal with kindergarten through high school matters.

Three other new House committees also were formed by Glasscock to take a longer-term view of issues the state will face in the future. The New Economy Committee and e-Government Technology Committee will focus on issues related to economic development and changes in how government services are delivered. The Kansas Futures: A Strategy for Demographic Change Committee takes the prize for the committee with the longest name and will be charged with looking at the challenges the state will face as its population ages.

In explaining his strategy, Glasscock said, "The truth about the legislative process is that we tend to focus on the problems of today. Sometimes, we focus on the problems of yesterday. Very rarely do we face the challenges of the state for the future."

That certainly is an approach the state should strive to change. Governing can be a slow process. The Legislature only meets for about three months out of the year and unless it plans ahead, it may have to act quickly perhaps hastily to respond to urgent needs that have arisen since the last session. Sometimes the problems they are responding to could have been foreseen. In some cases such as the privatized adoption and foster care system and, more recently, the new child support payment system changes in state government might have gone more smoothly if planning had started earlier.

Higher education certainly is an area that could benefit from a long-term approach. Representatives of the state's universities usually have spent much of their legislative time with House and Senate budget-writing committees, but the new Higher Education Committee will have more time to deal with the complicated issues that face state universities, community colleges and vocational-technical schools.

The committee should resist the temptation to micro-manage the Kansas Board of Regents, which sets policy for those schools, but committee members should take advantage of the opportunity to educate themselves about post-secondary education in the state and where it should be headed in the future.

One of the issues that will be on the table this year is a plan favored by Kansas University that would establish a block grant system to fund the state's three largest universities. The Legislature would still review university budgets, but funding would be allocated in a lump sum, giving universities more flexibility in how it is used.

Each university would keep the tuition money it collects being allowed to spend any excess but having to compensate for any shortfall. Universities also would be held accountable for accomplishing educational goals set by the state. It's a funding shift that deserves serious consideration by the new Higher Education Committee.

The Kansas Legislature's hectic three-month session sometimes seems to create more heat than light concerning state issues. The new House committees may offer an opportunity to set some vision for the future in higher education and other key issues.

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