Kansas higher education funding to grow by at least $108M next year; what that means for KU raises still being determined

photo by: Associated Press

A bus makes its way along Jayhawk Boulevard in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

State funding for higher education in Kansas — including for the University of Kansas — will grow by at least $108 million next year, now that Gov. Laura Kelly has signed the state’s main budget bill.

While the increase is historic in size, it is not enough to answer all the questions surrounding the state’s universities, including how much of a raise university employees might receive now that state funding is growing.

But members of the Kansas Board of Regents said they were highly pleased with how the Legislature and the governor treated higher education this session, noting that the funding would do much to support the Regents’ strategic plan to make the state a leader in higher education.

“As long as that continues to be supported, I think we have great things around the corner,” Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, said at a Wednesday afternoon meeting.

In fact, there may be another $20 million of state funding coming to higher education later this month.

Members of the Kansas Board of Regents were told Wednesday that state general funding for the state’s public universities, community colleges and other institutions will grow by $108 million, but legislators will consider adding another $20.7 million when they return for their wrap-up session later this month.

That $20 million of additional money is still outstanding because Kelly in her recommended budget at the beginning of the year had recommended a $45.7 million increase in base state aid for universities, which is the money that KU and other universities use to fund basic operations. The Legislature in its regular session, however, agreed to a $25 million increase. It said it would consider the remaining $20.7 million in its wrap-up session that begins on April 25.

“We are working really hard on getting that money back in,” Matt Casey, director of government relations, told the Regents.

KU and other higher education leaders will be particularly interested in the outcome of that funding because the increase in base funding comes with a big string attached — the state universities must forgo increasing tuition next year.

When the governor made her recommendations earlier this year, university leaders indicated that a $45 million increase in base state aid for the state’s universities in exchange for a one-year freeze on tuition would be a good trade.

But as the legislative session progressed and the governor’s recommendation got trimmed, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod told the Journal-World that a tuition increase would need to be considered at KU if the recommended funding wasn’t provided.

On Wednesday, however, Regents were told that while the Legislature cut the governor’s recommended base funding for higher education, the stipulation that tuition not be increased remained. The governor signed the budget on Wednesday morning, leaving the tuition freeze in the budget.

Regents, who met at Fort Hays State on Wednesday afternoon, didn’t broach the tuition topic, but rather expressed appreciation for increased funding after previous years where higher education funds have been declining or stagnant.

Regents, though, did briefly discuss what the new state money might mean for wages and salaries of university employees. In addition to the increase in base state aid, the Legislature approved $24 million in funding for merit raises for state employees at Regents institutions.

In general, the Legislature based its wage and salary funding for state employees around the idea of giving an average wage increase of about 5%, but Regents officials were quick to note that might not be how it pencils out at KU and other universities.

That’s because many of the employees at KU and other universities aren’t state employees who have their salaries paid from that pool of state money. KU leaders previously have estimated that the additional state wage and salary funding will only cover about 25% of the pay raises KU intends to give. The university will have to use its cash reserves and other savings to fund the balance.

KU hasn’t yet set what those wage and salary increases might be for faculty and staff, but it has not committed to a 5% average. On Wednesday, Regents highlighted there is still more to figure out on that issue.

“There are going to be people out there after this funding that think, ‘oh, I’m going to get a 5% increase,'” said Regent Wint Winter Jr., of Lawrence. “We have to make sure we are communicating reality.”

Regents also were told that there are several other programs that received increased funding that staff would be working through the details on. Those include:

• $35 million in one-time funding aimed at improving maintenance of university facilities that have fallen into disrepair. That’s $10 million more than the governor recommended. The Regents have placed particular emphasis on the declining state of university facilities and lobbied legislators for funding.

• $10 million to fund demolition of buildings on university campuses. The Regents also have advanced the idea that university campuses have excess building space, and that some of the more deteriorated buildings should be demolished rather than repaired.

• $75 million in grant funds earmarked for the Kansas Board of Regents to use on projects related to higher education and economic development opportunities. In addition, $10 million in grant funds for community colleges and another $10 million for private colleges in the state. Lawmakers are using federal pandemic relief money to fund those grant programs.


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