Lawmakers signal they won’t approve funds necessary to keep tuition flat at Kansas universities

From left: Senators Gene Suellentrop, Ed Berger and Tom Hawk deliberate on how much funding to allocate toward higher education in Fiscal Year 2021 on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

TOPEKA — Following a week of testimony from leaders of Kansas’ higher education institutions, subcommittees in both chambers gave strong indications they wouldn’t approve the level of funding university leaders told them they would need to keep tuition rates flat.

It wasn’t immediately clear after Thursday’s and Friday’s legislative votes what type of tuition increases may be in store for the next academic year at the University of Kansas, which had been seeking to keep tuition basically flat for the second year in a row.

But KU Chancellor Douglas Girod testified before the House and Senate higher education budget subcommittees on Monday that the nearly $40 million discrepancy between what Gov. Laura Kelly recommended — $11.9 million — and what the Kansas Board of Regents requested for its universities — $50 million — would require KU to raise tuition again if the gap wasn’t significantly narrowed.

Despite a motion to do so from Rep. Mike Amyx, D-Lawrence, the House committee declined Thursday evening to fully fund the Regents’ request.

Instead, they passed Kelly’s recommended budget and voted to add $250,000 in funding for KU’s Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center in Kansas City, Kan.

“As much as I’d like to vote yes, I know in this building a $96 million increase isn’t going to survive,” Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said during Thursday’s hearing.

The story was largely the same Friday afternoon in the three-person Senate committee. Senators said they wished they could fully fund what university leaders had testified they would need to keep tuition increases down, but they ultimately voted to mostly fund Kelly’s recommendations.

The Senate committee authorized an additional $12.3 million to be transferred from the state’s general fund to the State Finance Council to be distributed to the universities to aid in salary increases. A decision on whether or not that will be approved will be made at the end of the legislative session when lawmakers debate the omnibus budget.

Blake Flanders, the president and CEO of the Board of Regents, told the Journal-World he and the Regents were grateful for the work of the committees in making the tough decisions for how much to allocate toward higher education.

“What we know is (that) higher education is the answer for economic development and the future of Kansas,” Flanders said. “We’ll continue to work with the Legislature to provide adequate support so that we can make it affordable for all Kansans.”

As for how much KU and other universities may have to raise their tuition, Flanders said that question is still largely up in the air.

The next step in the process is for the House and Senate appropriations committees to examine the budget recommendations — which will begin Monday — before submitting a final budget proposal for passage by the full House and Senate.

“We just know that higher education is so important to the long-term benefit, the economic benefit not only of each individual Kansan, but the entire state,” Flanders said.


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