Topeka The state budget division has recommended that funding to higher education be frozen at its current level for a year.
But after two years of cuts, the Kansas Board of Regents has appealed the decision, requesting a $62 million increase.
“It is critically important to note that this funding, which would boost the Kansas economy, would be used in a strategically targeted manner to produce a clear return on investment,” said Andy Tompkins, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents.
In the appeal to State Budget Director Duane Goossen, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she understands the state’s budget problems, but adds “Kansas will only be prosperous again if its businesses have educated workers to hire and if Kansas students can gain skills and education they need to fully contribute to the economy.”
Higher education has been cut more than $100 million, or 12 percent, over the past two years as state tax revenues decreased during the recession.
Gray-Little said cuts to KU have meant the elimination of approximately 200 positions, increased class sizes and made it more difficult for students to get the course they must have to graduate on time.
In addition, she said, the cuts have meant KU has not been able to keep up with the demand for engineers and nurses. And the prospect of a third year without a pay raise for faculty and staff “makes our employees particularly vulnerable to be recruited away by other institutions, with the potential of taking millions of dollars in research grants with them,” she said.
The proposed funding increase by the Kansas Board of Regents would:
l Allocate $20.5 million to cover inflation over the past several years.
l Restore $15.7 million for deferred maintenance projects.
l Provide $14.5 million in state funds to grow the Kansas work force, specifically in engineering, nursing and other high need fields.
l Implement a new technical education funding formula that will cost $11.6 million.
The funding increases are aligned with long-range plans to increase retention and graduation rates and align higher education with Kansas’ work force needs, officials said.
The increase for technical education is in response to a legislative directive to develop a funding method based on student credit hours.
Gov.-elect Sam Brownback has said he wants to freeze the current level of overall state funding, although he said adjustments could be made within that framework. Funding of public schools, higher education and social services will be contentious in the legislative session that starts in January.
After two years of making cuts throughout the budget, legislators are looking at another budget gap of at least $500 million because of the expiration of federal stimulus funds to the state.
In addition to the letter of appeal written by higher education leaders, regents officials have met with Goossen, who is the current budget director under Gov. Mark Parkinson, and members of Brownback’s transition team to discuss the budget.