Editorial: Increase funding for higher ed

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The Kansas Board of Regents is right to seek significant funding increases for the University of Kansas and the state’s other regents universities, but questions will need to be answered before the increases win legislative approval.

Foremost, the regents will have to justify a 15 percent pay increase for Regents President and CEO Blake Flanders. Second, it needs to be clarified how the funding increases, if awarded, will affect KU’s plan to cut $20 million from its operating budget this year and next.

On Thursday, the Board of Regents approved an $85 million funding increase over the next two years in its budget proposal that will go to the Legislature. The funds requested by the Regents are restoration for dollars the Legislature cut in 2009.

For the state universities, the request includes $50 million for fiscal year 2020, which begins in July, and an additional $35 million for the fiscal year 2021.

“Our hope is that this will happen,” said KU Chancellor Douglas Girod. If the request is approved, KU is expected to receive about $33 million across all its campuses.

The state of Kansas collected $300 million more in tax revenue than budgeted during the last fiscal year and is up another $17 million through two months this year. Certainly, after years of higher education cuts driven by tax funding shortfalls, it’s appropriate for the Legislature to restore some of that funding to the state’s colleges and universities.

The state’s current funding of state universities is about $588 million in state general funds out of a total state general fund budget of $7 billion, according to figures provided by the Regents.

Girod didn’t provide specifics on how the additional state funding might affect plans to cut $20 million from KU’s budget this year and next. The cuts have been a source of friction amid faculty and staff. Girod did say that “the dollars would help the university take care of their people and the challenges they have been facing.”

The Regents took care of Flanders by awarding him a $30,000 pay raise from $200,000 to $230,000. Regents said the increase was necessary to bring Flanders in line with his peers around the country. Still, the pay increase runs the risk of becoming an issue with legislators and, worse, sends the wrong message to KU faculty and staff facing wage stagnation and job losses. If KU will clarify how the state funds will affect the planned cuts, that could go a long way to tempering the CEO pay hike.

Overall, the Board of Regents’ budget proposal is appropriate. We hope the Legislature, which will undergo a makeover in the November elections, will recognize the need to support it and restore to higher education some of the significant funding cuts the state’s colleges and universities have endured the past decade.

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