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Archive for Sunday, March 20, 2005

Tuition increase likely under House plan, both sides agree

March 20, 2005

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— Students and their families probably would pay higher tuition at state universities under the proposed state budget passed by the House, both supporters and critics agree.

The bill, approved on a 67-55 vote Friday, would provide $11.3 billion for the state government during the fiscal year beginning July 1. It would meet GOP leaders' goal of providing additional money to public elementary, junior high and high schools without raising taxes.

But higher education spending was the key issue for many House members. Republican leaders argued the proposed budget treats higher education relatively well, while Democrats and the state Board of Regents said programs would suffer. All 42 House Democrats voted "no."

In recent years, the regents have increased tuition and said it was necessary to make up for inadequate state funding. At the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, tuition for a typical undergraduate has risen more than 75 percent since the 2001-02 academic year.

Reggie Robinson, the regents' chief executive officer, said tuition would increase further under the House budget, as did Democrats. But House Speaker Doug Mays wasn't troubled by the prospect.

"We give them a great deal of flexibility to determine their own future," Mays, R-Topeka, said of the regents. "Part of that is the ability to raise their own tuition and the ability to spend it however they want. Very little of state government has that flexibility."

The Senate plans to debate its own spending plan next week, and the final version of the budget will be written by negotiators from the two chambers.

Under the House's proposed budget, overall state spending would increase about $427 million during the next fiscal year, or about 4 percent. Many of the extra dollars would go to public schools and to cover higher costs associated with providing medical services to low-income Kansans.

Republican leaders contend public schools are the top priority because of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling giving legislators until April 12 to increase aid to schools and distribute the dollars more fairly.

For higher education, the House provided for $21 million in new state dollars, an increase of about 3 percent. The total would be about $729 million.

But Gov. Kathleen Sebelius sought a 6.1 percent increase, or about $43 million.

And the total for higher education includes money for community colleges and vocational schools. The regents said the allocation of state dollars to universities merely would drop slightly, by 0.4 percent, or $2.3 million.

"This budget does make real cuts to state universities," said House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg.

But Republican leaders said the House budget would reduce state government's overall administrative payroll costs -- reducing the universities' expenses by nearly $23 million. That means they wouldn't suffer, GOP leaders said.

"It's better than it's been a lot of years," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.

In other action, the House gave first-round approval to a bill anti-abortion activists are pushing to set minimum health and safety standards for abortion clinics.

Also, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, proposed a three-year, $495 million school finance plan relying on sales and income tax increases and expanded gambling.

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