Topeka Robba Moran — a member of the Kansas Board of Regents and wife of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. — says that when her husband comes home to Hays on the weekend, the two of them have a whinefest.
He whines about federal agencies. Her whine? "I have a Legislature that doesn't seem to value education," she says.
Robba Moran, a Republican, and other Republicans and Democrats on the regents last week blasted the Legislature for cutting the higher education budget.
It was a bipartisan fusillade against partisan budget cuts that were passed with only Republican votes.
The tale gets stranger because many of the Republicans who voted for the budget cuts walk hand-in-hand with Gov. Sam Brownback on most issues.
On higher education, however, Brownback spoke against the budget cuts.
The appropriations bill sent to Brownback's desk will cut higher education by $66 million, or 5.7 percent over two years. The bill includes a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut for each of the next 2 years, and limits on salary expenses, which officials of some institutions, including Kansas University, have said will be a significant problem to figure out and implement.
"It's never good to cut higher education," said Regents Vice Chairman Fred Logan of Leawood, a Brownback appointee.
The Kansas cuts come at a time when nearby states are increasing funds to higher education.
In Iowa, legislators agreed to a 2.6 percent increase and the state universities there promised to freeze in-state tuition for a year. Nebraska officials also froze tuition after legislators there approved a 4 percent increase in funding.
Missouri's budget includes a $25 million increase for higher education, including $10 million for Missouri University's medical building. Colorado's higher education budget was increased by $30 million and Oklahoma's by $33 million.
The cuts in Kansas will make the regents universities a target for aggressive recruiting of faculty and staff from schools in other states, officials said.
In documents provided to the regents to back up its tuition increase proposal, KU said in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alone, it "engaged in 29 counteroffers, preemptive counteroffers and spousal accommodations in order to retain highly productive faculty courted by other institutions." Of those, 19 had been retained, six resigned and four remain uncertain.
"These are mainly midcareer to senior faculty, and their loss would impact negatively not only research stature and teaching excellence but also leadership and mentoring that are essential to the quality of all academic programming," KU said.
But legislative leaders had indicated a desire to find ways that universities could save even more money.
House Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, has called for hearings during the interim period to drill down into school budgets, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said, "We believe that, like state government as a whole, the Regents can scrutinize spending and find ways to be more efficient.”