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Archive for Saturday, March 29, 2014

Questions surrounding higher education funding persist

March 29, 2014

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Topeka — With much of the Legislature’s attention focused on a state Supreme Court order to equalize public school funding, movement on the higher education front, including Kansas University, has taken a backseat recently.

Legislative leaders are hoping to have a school finance plan before April 5, which is when the Legislature breaks for more than three weeks before returning for a veto session.

On March 7, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature violated the Kansas Constitution by failing to fund schools equitably. The court set a July 1 deadline for the Legislature to fix that problem.

Satisfying the court’s order under current law could cost up to $129 million.

That has sent Republican leaders scrambling.

And higher education, which relies on state and federal funding, in addition to private dollars and tuition, has always been a target in tight budget times.

“Higher ed, as far as I can tell, and from a Senate leadership perspective at least, remains a priority for this budget year. We want to address that,” said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

“Is it going to be called into question? Yes we knew that when the court wanted (the school finance formula) to be equalized,” he said.

Currently, different versions of the higher education budget have been approved in the House and Senate budget-writing committees.

The House version is more generous at this point for KU because it includes $2 million for the school’s Translational Chemical Biology Institute, which would help commercialize state of the art drug treatment advances.

The funding was part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal, but the Senate Ways and Means Committee omitted the funding.

That prompted Democrats to claim Republican legislators were unfairly picking on KU, an accusation that Republicans denied.

As major decisions come closer, Tim Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs at KU, said the school continues to work with the Senate to provide the funding of the TCBI.

“Obviously there are many moving parts that will have to come together during the next few weeks, but we are working closely with legislative leadership on adoption of the governor’s proposed budget for higher education and the University of Kansas,” Caboni said.

—Statehouse reporter Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-423-0668 or srothschild@ljworld.com.

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