Editorial: KU right to seek restoration of cuts

Properly funding the university is an investment in the state’s future, and lawmakers would be wise to backtrack on cuts made in 2016.

University of Kansas officials should not be surprised that Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget for 2018 did not restore funding cuts implemented at the end of the 2016 legislative session.

Disappointed? Yes. But surprised? Absolutely not, given Brownback’s disregard for higher education in general and KU specifically.

At the end of the 2016 legislative session, the governor ordered nearly $100 million in cuts above and beyond those included in the budget bill. The new cuts hit funding for Medicaid and higher education especially hard.

The cuts amounted to a 4 percent reduction for most colleges and universities, but in a deal with legislators, Brownback singled out KU and Kansas State to shoulder larger cuts than the state’s other Regents universities.

For KU’s Lawrence campus, the additional cuts equated to $7 million. The KU Medical Center took a $3.7 million cut, bringing the total cut for the KU system to $10.7 million. Kansas State endured a $5.2 million cut. The cuts were about 5.1 percent lower than the funding lawmakers initially approved in adopting the 2016 budget.

KU and the Board of Regents have made it a legislative priority to have the funding restored, but Brownback’s budget proposal, unveiled last week, included $600 million over five years for K-12 education but no restoration of funding for higher education.

Reggie Robinson, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs, said the loss of funding has a real impact.

“In recent years, cuts to our state appropriation have affected all aspects of our mission — including our ability to educate students, serve Kansas communities, and make discoveries that change lives and grow the economy,” Robinson said.

Perhaps most importantly, the cuts have forced KU to continue to increase tuition. Since the cuts, KU raised tuition 5 percent for the 2016-17 year and 2.5 percent for 2017-18. Such tuition hikes weigh heavily on Kansas families at a time when postsecondary education is almost a requirement for success.

Last summer, the Kansas Department of Education reported that within the next couple of years, 71 percent of the state’s jobs will require postsecondary education. But only 46 percent of the state’s high school graduates were enrolled in postsecondary programs two years after graduating high school. KU is a critical component in helping the state close that gap.

KU has endured $46 million in state funding cuts since 2008, Robinson said. It is reasonable for the university to seek restoration of the 2016 cuts and such an investment — in KU as well as the state’s other colleges and universities — would benefit the state as a whole.

If Brownback can’t see that, perhaps there are lawmakers who can.