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Kansas legislature

Kansas Legislature

Officials hoping for thaw in icy relations between higher education and Republican legislative leaders

October 20, 2013

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KU responses to legislators' questions ( .PDF )

— Republican legislators who approved cuts to higher education and have warned that more cuts may be coming will start touring universities this week in preparation for the 2014 session.

Both sides — the legislative leadership and higher education officials — say they hope their somewhat icy relationship of late will thaw outside the pressure of a legislative session.

"I don't know how the visit will turn out, but I think it's an opportunity to share with each other our concerns," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

"The legislators are concerned about the efficiency of tax dollars that are spent. They're concerned about quality outcomes, and the schools are concerned about the same thing, so hopefully the communication will bridge the gap that we have right now," Wagle said.

Wagle said she is eager to hear from the leaders of each institution "as to the direction that they are planning for the future and what their goals are for their students."

"We want to be good partners," said Kansas University spokesman Tim Caboni. "Any issue there is, in relation to challenges facing the state, our role with the governor and the Legislature is to figure out how we can be helpful," he said.

During the 2013 legislative session, Republicans approved $34.3 million in cuts to universities over two years. While most states were increasing funds to higher education as they arose from the recession, Kansas was one of the few going in the opposite direction.

In addition, Republican legislators also sidelined Kansas University Medical Center's top priority of building a new medical education building.

The cuts prompted some criticisms from the Kansas Board of Regents lobbed against legislators, and legislators returned fire.

Although Brownback, a conservative Republican, signed those cuts into law, he has said he will work to restore those cuts, a position that the regents has endorsed.

Starting Tuesday, members of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees and legislative leaders will visit the six regents universities, a technology school and community college over a two-week period.

The schools have set up tours and presentations for the legislators, but Mary Jane Stankiewicz, a spokeswoman for the regents, said she has received strong direction from legislative staff that legislators want ample time to ask questions.

As part of the preparation for the meetings, legislators submitted to the schools dozens of written questions dealing with spending, fund-raising, general operations and academics. The schools responded, compiling lengthy answer booklets. The KU and KU Medical Center response alone totaled a combined 52 pages. (Go to LJWorld.com to see the documents.)

Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Fred Logan Jr., of Leawood, said the state of higher education in Kansas is excellent. He cited recent enrollment figures that showed enrollment is up at five of the six regents universities, and while KU's overall enrollment fell slightly, freshmen enrollment increased by 6.1 percent.

"It seems to me that Kansans have given a huge vote of confidence to the six universities," Logan said.

But Regent Tim Emert of Independence, a former Senate Republican leader, said he believes conservatives in the Legislature will criticize higher education regardless of what they see or hear on the tour.

Emert said the lengthy responses from the universities to the legislators' questions will probably be used against the schools. "There is so much information, they will find three things that are kind of bad and harp on them," he said.

Wagle said she believes the Legislature and higher education officials want the same things. "The Legislature wants a quality higher education system. We want an affordable system. We want to keep our kids in Kansas. We want them to have jobs when they graduate, so ultimately I think we'll find we have the same goals. Then the question becomes how do you finance that, and how much state money does that really take."

Here is the tour schedule:

Tuesday — Washburn Institute of Technology, Topeka; Emporia State University.

Wednesday — Wichita State University.

Thursday — Pittsburg State University and Fort Scott Community College.

Mon. Oct. 28 — Fort Hays State University.

Tue. Oct. 29 — Kansas State University.

Wed. Oct. 30 — Kansas University Medical Center and KU-Lawrence.

Comments

JayhawkFan1985 1 year, 2 months ago

The legislature needs to start investing in the future of Kansas. This simply cannot be done through cuts in tax rates or through tax abatements. The only way to invest in Kansas into build the best primary, secondary and higher education systems in the country and to build the best transportation system in the country. Do that, and the Kansas economy will take care of itself. Don't do that, and Kansas is the new Mississippi.

JayhawkFan1985 1 year, 2 months ago

Perhaps some efficiencies could be achieved by merging KU, WSU and Washburn into a KU system like the UT system in Texas. UT has its main campus in Austin with satellite campuses in Arlington, El Paso, and other cities. Similarly, KSU, ESU, FHSU, PSU, could be merged into a Kansas State system like Texas A&M has. At a minimum, we could eliminate several university president positions and duplicate administrative services like payroll and personnel. This would be a hard change, but I throw it out as a compromise if financial cuts are needed. Let's do it through structural changes, not cuts to educational programs themselves.

Jonathan Fox 1 year, 2 months ago

My problem isn't so much that legislators are cutting funding, but that the only result of that is higher tuition; making it that much harder for students to afford higher education.

There has to be a better way to force universities to cut back spending, because they haven't done much.

JayhawkFan1985 1 year, 2 months ago

Why is the rightwing goal always to cut spending? That by itself is meaningless. I had a car salesman once ask me, "what do you want to pay for this car?" I told him, "one dollar." What I want to pay and what is reasonable are two entirely different things. The GOP just keeps saying, "One dollar! One dollar!" Sadly, life is way more complicated than that. They know it. You have to give them credit for being the master of the 10-second soundbite. If they really want to negotiate with Obama on the ACA and with democrats in general, the American public would welcome that. But, that won't happen because the can't sell that on Fox News or to the tea party. Same is true at Kansas politics. The goop dominates but governs like they are the minority party and just try to stonewall everything. Good grief,

Seth Peterson 1 year, 2 months ago

Back-peddle Brownback. Agreeing to talk about undoing a few of the problems he helped cause. You don't get credit for a non-solution to a problem you created.

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