Topeka Student leaders on Thursday presented Gov.-elect Sam Brownback with postcards signed by 3,000 students who asked the Republican to support a $50 million increase in higher education funding.
Kansas University Student Body President Michael Wade Smith and his counterparts from the other public universities actually ran into Brownback as he was coming into the office.
Brownback took the petitions from them, but gave no commitment on their funding request.
"I appreciate you guys being here and I'll look forward to talking with people," Brownback said. Brownback said he planned to have lunch Thursday with KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and several members of the Kansas Board of Regents.
The student leaders also expressed concern over Brownback's pick of Steve Anderson to serve as the state budget director.
Anderson has been a consultant for Americans For Prosperity, a group that fights against taxes, government growth and regulations on businesses.
A "model budget" for Kansas produced by Anderson and AFP earlier this year, stated that tuition should be increased in Kansas.
The document stated: "There is no reason to tax the majority in the state who do not have children attending a state institution in order to subsidize those who do, especially when there is evidence it is the more affluent citizens who are more likely to have children enrolled in higher education."
At a news conference later in the day, Brownback said he would not comment on that statement and that he had not read AFP's "model budget."
Brownback said he would be putting a proposed budget together and expressed confidence in Anderson's abilities.
Brownback faces a nearly $500 million budget deficit but he has vowed to balance the books without a tax increase. "We face some very difficult decisions," he said.
Higher education has been cut $100 million over the past two years during a historic drop in state tax revenues.
The Kansas Board of Regents has approved the "Kansas Commitment," which would provide $50 million in increased state spending for next year. About $20 million of that would represent a 2.73 percent inflationary increase, based on the Higher Education Price Index. Another $15.75 million would be to restore some of the deferred maintenance funding that legislators approved for higher education but eliminated in the last two budgets.
The regents also are asking the state to collaborate with Kansas University, Kansas State and Wichita State in a special program to meet workforce needs. Their plan is to have the state contribute $14 million and universities contribute $7 million to address the state’s shortage of graduates in engineering and medical fields.
KU's Smith said he hoped Brownback and the Legislature would support the proposal. He noted that state funding as a percentage of the total cost of higher education was double in the 1980s -- when Brownback was in college at KU and Kansas State -- than what it is now.
He said the signatures from students were gathered during a two-week period.
Jonathan Rivers, student government president at Emporia State University, said the dwindling state funding was having an impact on students.
Rivers said high-quality professors are leaving for better-paying jobs at other institutions, students are taking two and three jobs to pay for school, and campus buildings are falling into disrepair.
"It's like rowing upstream," he said. "If we don't advance, we fall back. It's a very personal battle," he said.