Now that the state's role in financing public schools has been settled - at least for a couple of years - state Sen. Derek Schmidt figures it's time to start working on helping students afford taking the next step up the educational ladder.
The Republican from Independence, who serves as Senate majority leader, told a Monday luncheon crowd of about 100 Rotarians that the state should provide tax credits for all Kansas residents seeking an undergraduate degree at one of the four-year Kansas Board of Regents universities.
The credits - he proposes up to $250 per year for each student - would help defray the rising cost of tuition, as overall state funding for higher education has eroded.
"This will help families afford the system we've got," said Schmidt, who hopes to increase such financing beyond $250 per student either this year through the legislative process or future years, if necessary. "You've got to start somewhere."
Schmidt, a 1991 Kansas University graduate, said that so-called "deferred maintenance" issues also would get plenty of attention this session, now that the Legislature will convene in January without questions about the financing of public schools.
The backlog of maintenance issues awaiting financing for the six regents universities - $727 million in all, including $285 million for KU and the KU Medical Center - certainly will be addressed by the time legislators finish the session, he said.
But getting a workable program in place likely will require some help, he said. Schmidt hopes to increase the scope of the program by adding maintenance needs at each of the 19 community colleges in the state.
"We've got to look at building coalitions, and, to my mind, the way to get there is to include the community colleges," said Schmidt, whose district includes Independence Community College. "All of a sudden you go from six communities in the state that have an interest in getting this done to 25 communities in the state, and that makes a difference."
As he prepares to return to Topeka for the legislative session, Schmidt is wrapping up a semester of work at KU in Lawrence as the first recipient of a Simons Public Humanities Fellowship.
The fellowship, offered through KU's Hall Center for the Humanities, provided Schmidt with a stipend allowing him to conduct research in a field of his choice. His topic: the growing influence of India, a country he sees as becoming an even bigger player in the lives of Kansans and other Americans, given India's use of English as its official language, democracy as its form of government and a legal system based on fundamentals forged in England.
He expects to put his newfound knowledge to work in Kansas.
"We have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new wave," he said.