Topeka While their counterparts in the public school system have found plenty to complain about in Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's budget proposals, officials in the higher education system are feeling relatively lucky.
Leaders of the Kansas Board of Regents say higher education did not take as big a hit as it might have in a year in which the state has to close a $550 million budget shortfall.
"After recent and severe budget cuts, and a continued trend of state disinvestment in higher education, we're very pleased the governor is advocating for no reductions to the system's base budget," said Regents Chairman Gary Sherrer.
In his budget proposal, the Republican Brownback is not calling for cuts in university operating budgets and wants more state investment in key research missions.
By contrast, public schools would see significant cuts in their general operating budgets. Brownback's budget would cut the base aid the state's 293 school districts receive by $232 per student, a reduction caused by the end of federal stimulus funds used to prop up education budgets.
The K-12 cut also reflects the higher costs to the state for support of the teacher pension program and aid to a number of districts making bond payments on new facility construction.
Sherrer and other university leaders welcomed the news and said they were eager to work with Brownback and the new Legislature to build on the proposal and other academic goals. Kansas has 32 public higher education institutions, including seven four-year universities and 19 community colleges.
Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said Brownback's proposal was "the first step" in the process and that the university would work with the governor and legislators on the proposed investments.
"And while it is an encouraging step, we cannot make assumptions about funding until the budget is passed and signed into law," she said. "Stabilizing funding for higher education would certainly aid our efforts to meet the state's needs for an educated workforce and for research that creates jobs."
Brownback's proposal calls for $105 million in research investments. The state would contribute half of the amount in general fund revenues, while the universities would be required to reprogram existing dollars or raise an equal amount from private sources.
Kansas is trying to secure two major research projects.
Working with the Department of Homeland Security, Kansas State University is involved with the design and construction of the new National Bio- and AgroDefense Facility, which would replace an aging federal animal research facility at Plum Island, N.Y. The $451 million lab will be built near the Kansas State campus in Manhattan and conduct research on deadly plant and animal contagions, including foot-and-mouth disease.
"We appreciate that Gov. Brownback recognizes the role higher education plays in economic development and job growth in Kansas and how it speeds the state's economic recovery," said Kansas State President Kirk Schultz.
The University of Kansas is seeking to gain National Cancer Center designation for medical school operations in Kansas City, while Wichita State University is continuing on the success of its aviation research center linked to the cluster of aircraft and aerospace industries in south-central Kansas.
Brownback also proposes reorganizing all of state government and moving some Kansas economic development functions currently embedded in other state agencies to universities. It includes abolishing the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, which helps high-tech firms get off the ground, and move the functions and research grants under the regents.
Bills to accomplish some of the governor's spending and policy initiatives were introduced last week when the Legislature convened. Hearings on those measures are expected to begin in the coming weeks.