Regents proposal facing close scrutiny

Higher education's requested funding increase is largest in state government

where funds would go

The Kansas Board of Regents is seeking to increase funding to higher education by $150.5 million, or 18.1 percent for the fiscal year 2009, which starts July 1. Here is a breakdown of the requested increase.

All higher education sectors – $59.6 million.

Student financial assistance – $3 million.

Board of Regents office – $2.9 million.

Other postsecondary programs – $456,000.

State university building maintenance – $84.4 million.

? Key budget leaders weren’t enthusiastic, but they didn’t say “get lost,” either.

That was the reaction during a meeting last week when Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents, unveiled the regents’ higher education budget recommendation, which calls for a $150.5 million, or 18.1 percent funding increase.

“This will beg a lot of questions and a lot of answers,” said state Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Members of the Appropriations Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee held a joint session to preview agency budget requests before the Jan. 14 start of the 2008 legislative session.

Higher education may have put a bull’s-eye on its back with the largest requested funding increase in state government.

But Robinson said he was “encouraged by both the questions and the interest in some of the proposals that we put forward.”

The regents are trying to sell the need for the increase on three fronts: To keep pace with inflation, invest in programs that address state priorities, and apply more funding to repair crumbling buildings and infrastructure.

The $20.1 million investment package, which starts or reinforces programs throughout the higher education system, seemed to generate the most interest among lawmakers.

Plans at Kansas University to implement new ways to train more math, science and special education teachers would get more legislative support, Schwartz said, if there were a way to ensure that the newly minted teachers would stay in Kansas.

And a proposed school of construction at Pittsburg State University struck state Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, as a duplication of trade schools run by private groups or labor unions.

But southeast Kansas lawmakers said the Pittsburg State proposal would help fill a shortage of professional construction managers in their region.

On the issue of repair funds, the Legislature in the 2007 session approved an approximately $134.4 million plan over five years to address a backlog of maintenance projects. But regents officials have said that falls far short of the $660 million worth of needed projects.

Robinson said the requested increase of $56 million for the next fiscal year represented the difference between this year’s allotment and what schools say they could reasonably spend annually on deferred maintenance.

Schwartz noted that many of the regents’ proposals would receive greater scrutiny as the proposed budget gets assigned to various legislative subcommittees.

Robinson said he looked forward to the give-and-take of the session.

“They know that we are asking for a significant investment of new dollars. But I took their reaction as a recognition that some increased investment in higher education is appropriate at this point,” he said.