Archive for Sunday, March 20, 2005

Education competition

A budget bill passed Friday by the Kansas House includes many disturbing aspects including a notable inequity in higher education funding.

March 20, 2005


One of the most disturbing aspects of the funding package approved by the Kansas House for Kansas Board of Regents schools is that while funding for the state's six state universities is being slashed, legislators are fully funding Washburn University and the state's 19 community colleges.

Some last-minute revisions confused several aspects of the Regents budget that was passed Friday, but some provisions are clear. While decimating block grant funding for the state's six state universities, House members are preserving the full funding recommended by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for Washburn University and the state's community colleges.

The House-passed budget results in a net loss of funding for state universities, but doesn't touch the $8.9 million in funding for the Higher Education Coordination Act of 1999. The $3.3 million state universities will receive from that amount will be more than eaten up by other cuts. By contrast, the $5.6 million in block grant funding for Washburn and community colleges is untouched.

Sebelius recommended 2.5 percent salary increases for state employees, but the House budget eliminated the first nine months of that salary increase for university employees and left the universities in a position of having to cut elsewhere in their budgets to fund even the three remaining months of salary increases.

Because Washburn and community college faculty and workers are not state employees, they are not bound by the House's decision to delay salary increases. The $5.6 million those schools will receive can be used for whatever needs they see, including whatever salary increases they deem necessary.

The House not only is pitting state universities against K-12 education but also against Washburn and community colleges. The net result of Friday's House action, according to the Kansas Board of Regents, is that state universities would receive $2.3 million less next year than they did this year. If such a plan is implemented, according to Regents President and CEO Reggie Robinson, "Universities will have no choice but to raise tuition to fill the gap..."

In his statement Friday, Robinson thanked legislators who supported restored block grants for universities and magnanimously said that because of the confusing manner in which the funding bill was offered, some House members may not have realized they were approving a funding decrease for state universities. It would be nice to think House members simply made a mistake that can be corrected when the Regents budget heads to a House-Senate conference committee.

If, however, House members intentionally voted to reduce state university funding in order to provide more funding for K-12 schools, Washburn University and community colleges, the state's priorities are seriously out of whack. Supporting education in Kansas should mean providing opportunities from pre-kindergarten through a university degree. The state's public schools, community colleges and universities all play important roles in educating Kansans and deserve equitable support, not a system that cannibalizes one area to fund another.

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