Friday, September 21, 2012

Kansas Board of Regents recommends $47.1 million budget increase for higher education

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Topeka — The Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday recommended a $47.1 million increase for higher education, while Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget office has instructed state agencies to prepare budgets that cut 10 percent.

The regents proposal would increase higher education funding by 6.2 percent for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2013, and includes a 1 percent pay raise for state employees.

But Board Chairman Tim Emert, of Independence, said he didn’t believe the Brownback administration wanted a specific 10 percent cut.

“The direction we got was hold the line, do the best you can. If you have any proposals, they must be specific, they must be to push the economy of Kansas forward,” Emert said.

He added, “It has been four or five years since our state employees have had any raises and we just felt we owed it to them to do at least a minimal amount.”

In July, Brownback’s Budget Director Steve Anderson sent letters to state agencies, including the regents, asking them “to provide a reduced resource package of 10 percent from your State General Fund budget; an amount required by our current circumstances.”

Anderson also wrote: “No salary plan changes should be shown as part of your budget request.” On Thursday, Anderson said the regents were supposed to submit a budget plan with a 10 percent cut as a contingency plan.

Democrats have said Anderson’s letter provided a preview of what will be years of budget crises caused by Brownback’s massive tax cuts.

Brownback, however, has said the request for 10 percent cuts was an exercise that was part of the budget process.

Asked by reporters what a 10 percent cut would mean to higher education, Regent Kenny Wilk of Lansing said, “It would put a tremendous amount of pressure on tuition.”

Long-term issues

Wilk said he was confident Brownback and the Legislature will work with the regents on putting together a budget for the next fiscal year. And he said the regents have started working on more long-term funding issues for higher education.

During regents budget meetings, the board cut down $185 million in requests from higher education institutions to get to the $47.1 million “ask.”

On Thursday, the board approved its budget recommendation on a unanimous voice vote. It will now go to Brownback, who will make his own proposal to the Legislature when the 2013 session starts in January. After that, legislators will start working on a budget plan.

In addition to the 1 percent salary increase, the regents’ budget includes $12.2 million for inflation and $8 million for technical education.

Med Center request

Under specific items for regents universities, the proposal includes:
  • $2.8 million in recurring funds to “improve the stature” of the Kansas University Medical Center, especially the School of Medicine campus in Wichita.
  • $1 million for the next fiscal year as part of a proposed $30 million in state funds to pay for a new health education building at the Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
KU has hired a consultant, ECG Management Consultants, to provide analysis on what needs to be done to improve the School of Medicine in Wichita.

A memo from KU to the regents says, “Early reports from the ECG study indicate a need to invest more state funds in the educational program in Wichita to support more permanent faculty, thereby reducing reliance on volunteer faculty.”

The Wichita campus used to provide just third- and fourth-year training to medical students, but in 2011 was expanded to a full, four-year campus. In 2011, the inaugural first-year class in Wichita consisted of eight students. This year, that has grown to 28 students.