The Kansas Board of Regents should be grateful to Kansas City businesses that want to support the mission of state universities.
A lobbying plan being formulated by Kansas City-area businesses may provide an important shot in the arm for state universities in Kansas.
The Hall Family Foundation and the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City announced this week that they plan to launch a major lobbying effort to support Kansas Board of Regents universities. Their state goal is to convince Kansas legislators that the state needs to spend more money on higher education.
This campaign could have a number of benefits not only for state universities but for the entire state.
First, the Kansas City groups plan to embark on a public relations campaign to raise grass-roots support for higher education in Kansas. Residents across the state, particularly those in the rural areas, may not recognize the benefits they derive from universities that may be located at the other end of the state. Kansas University officials are becoming increasingly aware that KU's image in many parts of the state is not as positive as it should be. This part of the Kansas City group's plan may help address that concern.
The second part of the campaign is to lobby the Legislature next year for increased higher education funding. Perhaps the prestige of this group will make this effort succeed where others have not. Too often, state university officials have limited influence as legislative lobbyists. Their efforts are viewed as self-serving, and their message, therefore, lacks credibility with lawmakers. Legislators may be more likely to listen to business leaders carrying the message that higher education plays a key role in providing the research and the personnel to support important business ventures in the state.
It was disappointing to see comments in the Journal-World story that indicated Gov. Bill Graves' office may already be taking a defensive posture toward the lobbying effort. Graves' spokesman said the governor is proud of his record of funding increases for higher education and that his ability to raise university budgets is limited by the state's other budget priorities. The spokesman also pointed out that another tight budget year is expected in 2002.
All that is true, but it's also a matter of priorities. Is it penny wise and pound foolish to squeeze higher education budgets if the effect of that is to hamstring the state's economic future?
Hopefully, the Hall Foundation and the 100-plus businesses that make up the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City can spell out the consequences of such action in terms that will strike a receptive chord with Kansans and Kansas legislators.