Topeka In his proposed budget and speeches, Gov. Sam Brownback indicates that he expects the state’s higher education system to play a big role in helping the Kansas economy recover.
But Brownback’s proposed increases in funding for higher education come with strings attached.
In his budget plan, Brownback would provide $5 million each to Kansas University, Kansas State and Wichita State in new funding for research. That would be cancer research at KU, animal health research at K-State and aviation research at Wichita State.
But the funding would be made available only if each of the three institutions matches that amount, either through fundraising or re-allocating existing sources.
And the funding would not go through the Board of Regents, which oversees higher education, but the Kansas Department of Commerce, which is led by a Cabinet secretary appointed by the governor.
“Transferring these programs to the Department of Commerce — what does that mean?” asked Regent Tim Emert of Independence during a recent regents discussion.
Brownback also recommends allocating $1 million to Commerce to provide a competitive grant to expand engineering, and $500,000 to Commerce for competitive grants for community colleges.
Brownback said he has proposed moving those allocations through Commerce because that is the agency in charge of coordinating strategies to grow the economy.
In a speech to several hundred people at the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Brownback said Kansas’ ranking in higher education “has stagnated in the last decade.”
“We have to have institutions in ascendancy,” he said.
Brownback emphasized that cancer, animal health and aviation research are all areas that Kansas schools can build on. He said institutions may have to focus on fewer areas of study.
“We can’t be all things to all people,” the governor said.
In general, higher education officials have expressed appreciation to Brownback for keeping funding flat instead of proposing more cuts. Higher education has been cut approximately $100 million over the past two years as state revenues fell during the recession.
Now the process of forming a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 goes to the Legislature.
“This is just the beginning, as you know, in a long and challenging process,” said Regents Chairman Gary Sherrer of Overland Park. A former lieutenant governor, Sherrer added, “The governor’s budget, in my experience, has always been the starting place of debate, not the ending place.”