Kansas legislators, governor release $35.7 million tied to public university adherence to DEI law

photo by: Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature’s YouTube channel

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly supported release of $35.7 million in university operating grants held up by an anti-DEA law and $21.8 million equally divided between public and private higher education institutions.

Topeka — Gov. Laura Kelly and top legislative leaders voted Tuesday to allocate $35.7 million to public higher education after the Kansas Board of Regents certified that campus administrators complied with a state law forbidding employment and admissions decisions to be based on diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

The Legislature this year made distribution of the university operating grants contingent on affirming that DEI no longer dictated faculty or staff hiring nor influenced whether students were admitted.

Compliance with the law by public institutions meant recalibration of personnel procedures and the publishing of information about training or orientation programs to public websites.

DEI refers to policies established to support people from diverse backgrounds. A DEI framework would take into account gender, race, sexual orientation and other factors relative to people with a history of being marginalized in higher education.

“So, has each of the presidents of the universities certified that they have performed the duties that are required?” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican.

Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the state Board of Regents, said mandates were met by the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University and Emporia State University. He said neither Pittsburg State University nor Fort Hays State University previously ordered DEI training, but both universities planned to eventually include links to relevant material on their websites when appropriate.

The DEI law wouldn’t stop public universities or colleges from abiding by anti-discrimination statutes or undermine academic freedom of faculty or students engaged in DEI research or instruction. Campuses that violated the law by maintaining DEI pledges or oaths could face a $10,000 fine for every instance of noncompliance. The provisions weren’t applied in state law to private or parochial colleges or universities in Kansas.

The bipartisan State Finance Council likewise voted to support the release of $21.8 million for need-based financial aid to public and private college and university students in Kansas.

In the past, controversy emerged when the state Board of Regents earmarked a higher percentage of money in the comprehensive grant program for students at public universities. The Legislature ordered that the money be divided equally between public and private institutions in the state. A hold was placed on the money until the state Board of Regents affirmed it would follow the prescribed methods of distributing the money to students.

Adam Proffitt, the state’s budget director and secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, also received permission from the State Finance Council to use state general fund dollars to pay $5.5 million in bond debt that otherwise wouldn’t be eliminated for seven years. He said it would require $4.7 million to deal promptly with the debt.

“Effectively, we are investing 87 cents of SGF to retire $1 of SGF,” Proffitt said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but when you do that five million times over, you get to a pretty significant savings.”

— Tim Carpenter reports for Kansas Reflector.

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