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Archive for Friday, September 14, 2001

Lawmakers displeased with how higher education will spend grants

September 14, 2001

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"It appears to me that everything was made way too easy," said Rep. John Ballou, a Gardner Republican.

Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, echoed the sentiment.

"If we find out the measurements are simply to increase budgets, it's going to be a lot harder to get the Legislature to fund it," he said.

Nichols and other lawmakers told higher education officials there will be little room in the budget for spending increases, let alone a new grant program.

But higher education officials said while the goals could have been set higher, there was nothing they could do about it now.

Kim Wilcox, executive director of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the regents followed the law that set up the "quality performance" grants by allowing the schools to establish their own goals.

"It's not as strong as it might be. On balance this is an improvement plan," Wilcox said.

Under an overhaul of the higher education system adopted in 1999, the Legislature was scheduled to approve $13.9 million in grants for the fiscal year that starts July 1. KU's share of that pot would be $2.6 million.

Those grants were to be given to public universities that met or exceeded the quality performance goals adopted by the regents.

Wilcox said the regents staff had some input with the individual schools on the goals, but that under the 1999 law, the schools had final say on what their goals were. Wilcox said this was to allow for the wide variance in institutions, from a major university like KU, to a technical school.

Thursday, the regents gave members of the Legislative Budget Committee copies of those goals, contained in a 209-page book.

At first glance, members of the budget committee didn't like what they saw.

"I would hope you would re-evaluate this," Nichols told Wilcox.

Nichols flipped to a page that had a goal set by Emporia State University. The goal encouraged educational advancement and lifelong learning. The school planned to measure that vague goal by describing "opportunities for educational and professional development and lifelong learning."

Nichols asked how that goal and measurement proved the school deserved a grant for quality performance.

Similar goals are found throughout the book for various schools.

The first goal listed for KU is to improve advising and academic support programs. KU will "inventory and document types and availability of current academic support programs" to measure that goal.

Wilcox said the schools probably aimed low on some goals because under the law the school can receive either a full grant that is equal to two percent of that institution's budget, or nothing.

Even though lawmakers expressed displeasure with the goals and face a tight budget, Wilcox said he was confident the Legislature would fund the grants, saying lawmakers have fulfilled promised funding levels for all other parts of the higher education reform bill.

But Nichols, the ranking Democrat on the House budget-writing committee, said he wasn't sure.

"We are looking to you (the regents) for leadership. We want something more measurable and impressive," Nichols said.

-- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-354-4222.

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