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Archive for Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ways to maximize education funds discussed

Legislators, regents talk over ideas to increase investment returns

February 7, 2008

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— Officials Wednesday weren't too keen about a proposal to funnel higher education dollars through university endowments to try to earn more on investments.

But they said there may be other ways to increase the return on universities' cash flows.

"It's good to look at this. Let's keep talking about it," said Janie Perkins of Garden City, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents Fiscal Affairs and Audit Committee.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, has proposed legislation that would allow private endowments at universities to manage investment of state funds allocated to the schools.

On any given day, the six regents universities, including Kansas University, have about $300 million in the state's pooled money investment fund, he said. In the last fiscal year, the fund earned 5.27 percent interest.

But the endowments earned an average return of about 9 percent on investments last year. The difference could help out the schools a lot, Wilk said.

"We know there are a lot of details that would have to be worked out," he said, but added, "There is quite a bit of interest in the Legislature."

He was backed up by state Reps. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, and Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, who serve as chairwoman and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Wilk, Schwartz and Tafanelli have met with regents members and university endowment officials.

But Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment, said the endowments' investment strategies were based on long-term goals, while the universities may need to have quicker access to their funds.

"When you get into the tuition dollars and the turnaround of those funds in a short period of time, it's highly unlikely that we would have any investment vehicle that could add any incremental difference than what the pooled money investment fund is doing today," Seuferling said.

Several regents also said they were skittish about increasing risks to taxpayer funds.

"There are no guarantees, as you know, in the stock market," said Regent Jill Docking, of Wichita.

Seuferling also said the endowment would not want to jeopardize its private funding mission by accepting public dollars and having to abide by laws requiring open meetings.

He suggested if lawmakers want to earn more in investment income on appropriations to universities, they should expand the ability of the pooled money investment fund or create a corporation within the regents to handle investments.

Wilk said he wouldn't pursue this legislation without the regents' support. All parties indicated they would continue discussing the issue.

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