The Kansas Board of Regents is right not to be too accepting of budget cuts being considered by the state. In difficult economic times, everyone must expect to feel a certain amount of pain, but that doesn’t mean they should bear that pain without a howl.
At their meeting this week, the regents accepted a 3 percent budget cut for the current fiscal year, but asked state officials to reconsider an additional 4 percent cut being proposed for next fiscal year. They also asked the state to look again at its cuts for special projects outside the budgets, including $15 million for deferred maintenance and $15 million to expand the Kansas University School of Pharmacy.
As members of the regents pointed out, even if the funding eventually is cut, the board should defend its institutions. Being too accepting of cuts, they said, only makes it seem that the loss of funds isn’t significant — which it clearly is. Even the 3 percent cut in the current year will cause universities to tighten their belts; another 4 percent on top of that for the following year will have a serious impact on university staffing and services.
Eliminating spending on maintenance may seem like an easy target, but it is a silly move. Not only do those projects provide jobs in the state, but putting off this maintenance only worsens the problem and increases the cost of correcting it. The expansion of the pharmacy school may not seem like an urgent need, but KU has the only pharmacy school in the state, and increasing the number of graduates is important to meeting the demand for additional pharmacists.
The regents also are right to be concerned about any effort to try to make up for lost funding by charging university students more. The board is being asked to consider raising housing and dining rates for students who live in campus housing by about 5 percent. Regent Gary Sherrer accurately noted that those increases would have to be paid by students and their families and that adjustments that were higher than the rate of inflation simply weren’t appropriate in the current economic climate.
With state revenues on the decline, budget cuts will be necessary, but the governor and state legislators need to carefully consider where those cuts occur. Even if higher education has to accept some reductions, it’s still important for the Board of Regents to make lawmakers understand the serious impact those cuts have on the state.