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Archive for Monday, April 7, 2014

Higher education officials laud Legislature’s work

April 7, 2014

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— Higher education officials on Monday gave a thumbs-up to the Kansas Legislature.

"It was a great session for higher education," said Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Fred Logan. "We got almost everything we asked for," he said.

While much of the focus of the final days of the regular legislative session, which ended Sunday, was on public school funding, higher education made significant gains, officials said.

The Legislature approved the regents' No. 1 priority — $25 million in state-backed bonds to KU for a proposed $75 million health education building at the KU Medical Center.

KU has identified an additional $15 million for the building, which officials say is needed to replace outdated facilities.

With $40 million of the $75 million accounted for, KU spokesman Tim Caboni said officials will seek private sources of funding to get the project going.

"It gives us the opportunity to reach out to donors," Caboni said of the Legislature's bonding authority.

In addition, KU received $25 million in bonding authority for its Earth, Energy and Environment Center, which officials say will attract and retain top faculty and cutting-edge research.

On the funding front, higher education officials said the Legislature approved a budget that will restore approximately half of last year's approved "salary cap" cuts for the current budget year, and all of those that had been cut for the next budget year. That means an additional $4.07 million for the KU Medical Center, and $163,703 for the Lawrence campus. But the bill does not restore the 1.5 percent across-the-board cuts from 2013.

One proposal for KU that didn't make it through the legislative process was a request for $2 million for the Kansas Institute for Translational Chemical Biology. Gov. Sam Brownback had proposed the funding in his budget, but several legislators said they didn't understand what KU was seeking. The institute has been proposed to advance treatments and drug discoveries.

Logan said the regents will continue to talk with legislators about that.

Last year, legislators and higher education officials feuded over funding cuts.

During the just-completed session, KU took hits from some legislators, prompting others to allege there was a growing anti-KU sentiment in the Legislature.

An early request to issue bonds for a $17.5 million upscale apartment building for basketball players was rejected by a House committee and then withdrawn by KU, which later announced a private gift to start the project.

And there was a lot of back and forth concerning the bonds for the health education building.

But Caboni said many alumni and legislators advocated on KU's behalf.

"The legislators appreciate the work their flagship university does and see the benefits that it brings to the state," he said.

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