With $25 million addition, outlook for Kansas’ higher education budget looking less grim

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Kansas Statehouse in Topeka

The Kansas Legislature has passed a budget that includes an additional $25 million for higher education, a “big sigh of relief,” according to one Kansas Board of Regents member.

Matt Casey, director of government relations for the Regents, shared the “good news” in his legislative update during Wednesday’s Regents meeting. Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget, which was published earlier this year, had included a $27 million cut to higher education. The budget approved by the Legislature includes an additional $24.9 million to higher education.

The Legislature’s budget is not set, however. Kelly would need to sign it for it to become law.

“This is a way better report than I expected this time of the year and so I think we are all breathing a big sigh of relief,” Regent Shane Bangerter said after Casey’s update.

In addition to the increase in funding for higher education, the Legislature also added language to the budget that would provide more flexibility for how the Regents can use $10.3 million that has been designated for operations costs.

Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said she was pleased with what the Legislature was able to accomplish for higher education funding, especially given that there is intense competition for limited state funds.

“Higher education is of utmost importance,” said Humphries, who is the chair of the Higher Education Budget Committee. “We have to have wonderful universities. We are all about that, but we need to consider that in the context of the entire budget.”

It was unclear Wednesday how much the Legislature’s budget would affect the financial situation at the University of Kansas. Specifics of how the additional $25 million for higher education might be divided are not yet clear. The Regents did not discuss that at their meeting on Wednesday.

KU previously said that Kelly’s budget recommendations would cause a $13.6 million cut — $7.6 million at the Lawrence campus and $6 million at the medical center. When asked how the increase in funding for higher education could affect KU’s budget shortfall, spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said it was not yet clear.

“We won’t have a firm picture of our state funding situation and the overall impact any changes would have on our budget until the Legislature concludes its work and the Governor makes a decision on the final budget,” she wrote in an email to the Journal-World.

Humphries said she thought KU and other state universities would benefit significantly from another round of federal funding related to the American Rescue Plan. Humphries said she’d seen some federal estimates that KU would receive nearly $35 million through the program.

“Somehow I feel that needs to play a part in all of this,” she said.

Humphries said KU had also gained favorable attention with some state legislators by taking seriously the idea of making cuts to spending and positions.

“We are very pleased that KU has chosen to take that hard route and is accountable for the money it is getting, even though I know that is not a popular position with everybody there,” Humphries said.

Rep. Mike Amyx, D-Lawrence, who is also a member of the Higher Education Budget Committee, said he was pleased that the Legislature was able to find a way to provide more funding for higher education than what Kelly originally had recommended. But he still thinks KU will feel pain from this state budget.

“If I add it all up, it is still going to be short of the funding they once had,” Amyx said. “I would love to be able to see us fund them the way they should be.”

— Journal-World Editor Chad Lawhorn contributed to this report.


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