Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Legislative leaders will take budget meetings to universities around the state

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Legislative leaders today approved sending state budget writers on a tour of each public university to review and discuss higher education funding.

The move comes just weeks after Republican leaders approved budget cuts to higher education, making Kansas one of only a handful of states that have reduced funding to universities this year.

"Legislators need to hear from the universities about the budget cuts that have come from this past session and understand what the impact of those cuts are going to be," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, which consists of Republican and Democratic leaders, approved six days of meetings to send members of the House Appropriations Committee, Senate Ways and Means Committee and legislative leaders to each of the six regents' institutions, a community college and a technical college.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she hoped the meetings would provide "two-way communication."

"We have a lot of new freshmen legislators and we're hopeful that we can come to a common understanding about budget issues for the regents," Wagle said.

"I think it is good for legislators to actually see what's going on within the institutions," she said.

During the 2013 legislation session that ended in June, Republicans approved approximately $44 million in cuts to universities over two years. For each of those years, the schools are looking at cuts of about 3 percent.

Gov. Sam Brownback, also a Republican, signed the cuts into law but said he would work to restore funding next year.

Under the budget bill, the Kansas University Medical Center will lose $8.3 million over two years, and the Lawrence campus, $5.3 million.

Democratic leader Davis said he hoped legislators on the tour would have the opportunity to speak with students who saw higher tuition increases because of the state budget cuts.

"I think it's very important that legislators understand that the rising cost of college is having a real impact on the kind of student loan debt that graduates are having to shoulder, and also impacting the ability of some people to even attend college," Davis said.

Mary Jane Stankiewicz, a spokeswoman for the regents, said the regents looked forward to the meetings, and hoped it would increase the dialogue between higher education officials and legislators.

Jack Martin, a spokesman for KU, said school officials looked forward to the visit. "We appreciate legislators taking the time to visit, and look forward to having in-depth discussions with them about the role and value of the University of Kansas," he said.

No meeting dates have been scheduled yet but they are expected to start in the fall.