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KU outlines significant cuts if Legislature cuts higher education funding
Topeka — Kansas University's National Cancer Institute designation would be at significant risk if budget cuts proposed by House Republican leaders were enacted into law, officials said Wednesday.
The leaders of state higher education institutions briefed the Kansas Board of Regents on the proposed cuts and said they stood with Gov. Sam Brownback who is calling for a continuation of the current level of funding for higher education.
The House has proposed a 4 percent cut to higher education, plus a salary cap, while the Senate has recommended a 2 percent cut. The 4 percent cut and salary cap would total more than $20 million at KU, Gray-Little said.
"If we get the level of cuts that have been proposed in the House it will have a negative effect on our ability to provide the kind of workforce that the state needs," KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.
Kansas State University President Kirk Schultz called the proposed budget cuts "momentum killers."
But House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has said the argument that such cuts would hurt "has no merit."
Last year, KU's Cancer Center won NCI designation after several years of effort. The designation will open up more research and clinical trials, but officials said renewal of the designation will be difficult to achieve under the proposed cuts. The salary cap would hinder the center's ability to hire and retain top cancer researchers, KU said.
KU released a list of cuts that would have to be enacted if the House budget gained approval. Those include:
— Reducing by 36 the number of medical students KU admits each year. Three-quarters of the reduction would be in Wichita. The School of Medicine-Salina would close.
— Cutting by 50 the number of nursing students admitted and by 30 the available medical resident positions.
— Elimination of 38 faculty positions on the Lawrence campus. KU said the school would become a "farm team" for universities in other states.
— Risk of losing membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
Other regents universities presented similar scenarios of losing faculty, shutting down courses, more crowded classes and losing ground to other states.
"Some of the proposed cuts will set us back a decade in funding," said Regents spokeswoman Mary Jane Stankiewicz.
Several board members said they didn't understand why higher education was being targeted for the bulk of proposed cuts.
Regent Robba Moran said states that are investing in higher education are the ones attracting large corporations. "(University) rankings do matter and rankings don't come with inexpensive faculty," she said.
Regent Fred Logan Jr. said neither the House nor Senate budget proposals are pro-growth, but he added he was confident Brownback will be able to get the Legislature to adopt his budget plan.
Brownback plans to tour next week to rally support for his higher education budget. The Legislature returns for the wrap up session on May 8.
In focusing on higher education, Brownback is also pushing for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate permanent. Under current law, the sales tax is supposed to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Democrats have been critical of Brownback's sales tax plan. “Kansans should not be fooled," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. "The sales tax increase will not protect higher education. The governor is using a smoke-and-mirrors strategy to hide the real reason behind the budget cuts – his irresponsible income tax cuts.”