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Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

KU plan for funding meeting resistance

One-time supporters of block-grant proposal rethinking positions

February 15, 2001

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— A new way of funding the state's public universities, which Kansas University officials are lobbying for, is running into trouble.

At a meeting Wednesday of higher education officials, several university presidents who had earlier signed onto the so-called "block-grant" funding proposal, appeared to have misgivings.

Don Beggs, president of Wichita State University; Kay Schallenkamp, president of Emporia State; and Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State, said the Legislature should address a current budget crunch before discussion of the block-grant proposal continues.

Under the block-grant proposal, public universities would keep their tuition revenue, and the revenue they received from the state could be spent as the universities saw fit.

KU officials said they wanted this kind of budgeting method for two reasons.

First, they said they could better address their needs without strings attached to the state funds, and secondly, they said they are getting shorted in the current budget process.

That is because the more money they gain through tuition, the less they receive in state funds relative to other universities. Therefore, KU officials say, attempts to collect more tuition actually undercut their efforts to get state funds.

KU and Kansas State have been the major proponents of block-grant funding. The smaller universities had agreed to the proposal because some protections had been built into the plan for them.

But that was before Gov. Bill Graves released his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Graves endorsed the block-grant funding proposal, but university officials say that because of a new way of calculating their budgets, Graves also shorted them several million dollars in the next fiscal year. Graves also rejected re-authorizing a match of state funds for technology fees paid by college students.

At the meeting Wednesday, several university officials said all or a portion of the budget dollars should be restored before they leap into a new way of budgeting.

"Let's get our base (budget) where it should be," Schallenkamp said.

Later, she said, "There are advantages and disadvantages to block grants. My concern is that we are not looking at all the items to make the base whole. We should have an informed discussion."

But Marlin Rein, KU's director of governmental relations, said the Kansas Board of Regents should continue lobbying for the block-grant funding method regardless of what is done on the base budget. He said the two issues are not really related.

Asked how efforts were faring to find funds for the base budget, Rein said, "We're looking for a rabbit."

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