Topeka Given what could have happened, state elected leaders from both parties said Friday that higher education did OK in a House-Senate budget conference committee.
“Dollars were restored to higher education, and I think that makes sense,” said Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.
“Compared with what they expected, they probably came out better than anybody as a result of the conference committee,” state Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said of higher education.
The conference committee has recommended approval of a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Going into the conference committee process earlier this week, higher education officials had seen proposed budget cuts in the 12 percent range.
Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said a cut of that size, on top of reductions made earlier in the current fiscal year, would have “seriously damaged” KU and led to layoffs, larger class sizes and fewer course offerings.
But the bill that the committee adopted late Thursday would decrease state funding to higher education by $20.2 million, or 2.5 percent, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
Overall higher education funding would actually increase slightly — $10.2 million or 1.25 percent — because of the addition of federal stimulus package funds. But that percentage increase is made possible only because lawmakers cut higher education earlier in the year.
Vratil said the proposed deeper cuts were jettisoned because of communications from the Kansas Board of Regents, and a provision under the federal stimulus package that prevented the state from cutting below a certain amount if it wanted access to the federal stimulus dollars.
The full House and Senate will consider the conference committee bill next week.
KU said it would reserve comment until a final bill is approved. Regents president and chief executive officer Reggie Robinson said the reduced cut is appreciated, but he also doesn’t want folks to forget that higher education was cut earlier.
“The regents had said earlier this month that what they hoped for in state general fund support was what the governor had recommended, and it looks like the number that is emerging in the conference report is close to that,” Robinson said.
But a key question is whether the regents can follow through with a proposal to freeze tuition rates for one year if the Legislature provided enough funding support.
“I hope the board is still in a position to do that,” Robinson said. “We need to wait and see what all the numbers look like.” He said the regents will discuss the issue again at its meeting next month.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, whose district includes Kansas University, said he was glad to see additional dollars put in the higher education budget.
He credited much of the addition to the federal stimulus funding that Congress and President Barack Obama approved.
“If it was not for the stimulus package, we would’ve seen cuts to agencies that would have been much deeper,” Davis said. “For once, Washington has done something that has helped the states.”