Governor’s budget leaves out prized project for KU

Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget amendments left out one of Kansas University’s prized goals.

Going into this year’s legislative session, Kansas University administration has been focused on restoring last year’s cuts to higher education and winning state funding for a major new health education project.

The latter would involve a $75 million education facility for the KU Medical Center that would allow it to expand student capacity and add new technologies and teaching methods for training medical students and other health professionals.

Brownback’s proposed amendments to the two-year budget passed during the 2013 legislative session, announced today, restored some higher education cuts and included a $2 million project for a chemical biology research program. It also includes $70,000 for a program that encourages primary care physicians to work in rural Kansas. But it left out money for the health education initiative.

KU administrators and the Kansas Board of Regents showed no signs of dampened hope.

“We have not given up,” Regents Chairman Fred Logan said. “If we don’t get it this session we’re going to get it the next session. It is something the state needs; it needs it very badly.”

In a statement KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said, “We’re pleased the Governor’s budget largely reverses the salary cap cuts, and we appreciate his support for our work in translational chemistry and for the Rural Health Bridging Program.”

She added: “We’ll also work with Governor Brownback and policymakers to advance the Health Education Initiative, which would expand the KU Medical Center’s ability to educate the physicians Kansas communities desperately need.”

The new health education facilities would add simulation, robotic and communications technologies to help train students, and it would outfit spaces for more collaborative work and direct contact with faculty, according to the Medical Center.

Tim Caboni, KU vice chancellor for public affairs, said the university will keep pursuing other funds for the project, but “for this to happen I think we need this to be a priority for the legislature as well.”

The $2 million that Brownback set aside in his budget for the Kansas Institute for Translational Chemical Biology would go toward supporting existing labs that work on new technologies and drugs.

Money for the institute would help make permanent many of the staff and infrastructure used in chemical biology research, much of which is grant-supported, said Jeff Aubé, a KU professor of medicinal chemistry.

“You have to find some way of keeping (labs) going. If not, you lose your competitive edge for future funding,” Aubé said.

Aubé said the institute would support research projects that deal with a wide range of health issues, such as tuberculosis, cancer, addiction and depression. The $2 million would help core laboratories that do highly technical work as well as provide seed money for pilot projects that might not be far enough along to win grant money. It would also allow KU students to take courses and do projects in chemical biology.