KU lauds governor’s recommended budget, which would provide 5% wage increases and boost financial aid funding
photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World
Most University of Kansas employees are in line for a 5% wage increase — for the second year in a row — if the Legislature approves Gov. Laura Kelly’s recommended budget for the upcoming budget year.
That proposed wage increase was one of several pieces of good news that university leaders were touting as part of a budget recommendation that would add nearly $108 million of new investments to the state’s higher education system.
Recommended budgets, though, don’t do much to pay the bills. Given that Kelly is a Democratic governor who must win approval from a Republican-controlled Legislature, it is never a certainty that lawmakers will agree with her recommendations.
The reception that Kelly’s budget plan has received from lawmakers, though, so far has been one of the best parts of the legislative session, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a brief interview with the Journal-World.
“In talking with legislators, it seems to have landed pretty well,” Girod said of Kelly’s recommendation. “Sometimes it lands with a plop, but this one seems to have actually landed pretty well. In terms of how steep of a climb it may be, it seems doable, but there is still a long ways between now and then.”
In addition to the wage increase, expect the budget to boost the amount of scholarship money available. The governor is proposing a $20 million increase to expand financial aid at the state’s public universities. In addition, the budget includes $4 million to create “micro-internships” to get students connected with Kansas employers earlier in their education.
But the question that may be on the minds of many students and parents is whether tuition bills also will be on the rise at the Regents schools, which include KU, K-State, Wichita State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State.
It is not clear, however, whether Kelly will insist on KU and other universities holding their tuition rates flat. Kelly made that a condition of state funding increases last year, but her most recent budget proposal did not include the same mandate. Instead, a presentation from her budget director listed the goal as continuing the “recent trend of no-to-low tuition increases.”
Tuition increases for the next school year won’t be proposed until the summer and would require approval from the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities and community colleges.
Regents officials this week didn’t get into that topic. Instead, they largely lauded the recommendations Kelly did make.
“We appreciate that she continues to see the value of higher ed in the state of Kansas and how we are an important partner in addressing the workforce challenges that are out there,” Jon Rolph, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, said. “We are grateful the state continues to make the investments that it does in higher education.”
This marks the second year in a row that higher education leaders have strongly endorsed the state’s plan for higher education. That’s a new trend for higher education leaders. Prior to and at the beginning of the pandemic, higher education leaders like Girod and others were sharply critical of the state as KU faced a budget shortfall of about $75 million in the early part of 2021.
But then federal pandemic relief funds started flowing to the state, and the higher education system benefited greatly from several one-time pots of money. That is the case again in the proposed 2024 budget, with $42 million of one-time expenses that include $20 million for deferred maintenance on campuses, $12 million for IT and cybersecurity upgrades and $10 million for building demolition.
The demolition fund likely means KU will continue to seek more buildings to demolish, following up on a year that included the demolition of Oliver Hall and an old stone facilities maintenance building, which was controversial with some historic preservationists. The Regents have provided direction that campuses likely have more building space than they need and that it may make better sense to demolish some of the most dilapidated buildings rather than to repair them.
In addition to the one-time money — which Regents leaders have said likely will be less common in future budgets as federal pandemic funds dwindle — Kelly’s recommended budget also includes nearly $22 million in ongoing funding that is designed to help universities keep up with inflation.
Girod said that type of money was particularly welcome.
“We are really pleased with the budget,” Girod said. “It really captured the vast majority of what we discussed as a Regents institution.”
One KU project that didn’t make the cut, though, was a multimillion request to fund a new medical school building in downtown Wichita that would be built in conjunction with Wichita State. The total project is expected to cost more than $300 million, and the universities have envisioned funding it with a mix of state and private grants and funding sources. While not in the governor’s recommended budget, Girod said KU and Wichita leaders would continue to lobby legislators this session to include the project.
“We think we have support in the Legislature for it,” Girod said.
Several other universities did see specific projects get included in Kelly’s recommended budget. Those included $5 million for biomanufacturing training and education at K-State; $510,000 for an Emporia State program to recruit science and math teachers; $1.1 million to build a cybersecurity center at Emporia State; and $4 million to help build a proving ground facility for Pittsburg State’s National Institute for Materials Advancement, which is designed to help Kansas businesses make products currently being produced overseas.