Saturday, August 10, 2013

Higher education budget, new gun law among items to be discussed at upcoming regents retreat

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Higher education officials and leaders within Gov. Sam Brownback's administration will meet next week to discuss budget priorities for the next legislative session.

The Kansas Board of Regents retreat will feature wide-ranging talks on fiscal affairs and numerous other issues on the higher education radar, including concealed carry of guns on campuses.

The retreat will be held Tuesday through Thursday at The Barn in Valley Falls.

In a memo to the board, Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Tompkins said the meetings, " … will help the staff in developing budget requests that you will officially approve at the September board meeting."

During the last legislative session, Republican leaders and Brownback, also a Republican, approved cuts to higher education, making Kansas one of the few states in the nation that reduced funding to post-secondary schools.

As part of the budget discussions, the regents will consider whether to recommend restoration of the $36 million in cuts, plus a one percent across-the-board increase of $7.5 million.

The regents will be working off a list of requested expenditures that totals $276.2 million. That list includes a proposal to create a dental school in Kansas at a cost of $68.5 million, and an additional $20 million to help take care of a backlog of maintenance and repair projects at university buildings.

The regents will whittle down the requests and then make a final budget recommendation to Brownback's office. Brownback's budget proposal will then go to the Legislature in January at the start of the 2014 legislative session.

On Wednesday, board members are scheduled to meet with Brownback's Budget Director Steve Anderson and then with Brownback's Chief of Staff Landon Fulmer.

Many of the requests for increased funding are the same as those made last year.

Kansas University is requesting $25 million from a FICA refund and $15 million in tax dollars to help build a new health education building at KU Medical Center. KU would like to increase the number of medical students from 175 to 225, but school officials have said the current facility does not have the capacity to expand the training of doctors.

KU also is seeking $4.5 million to stabilize expansion of the School of Medicine in Wichita; $2.84 million to help transform the undergraduate program to increase student retention; and $2.5 million to create an institute that would promote state-of-the-art drug discovery and development.

Among the numerous issues to be taken up by the regents will be a review of the new concealed carry law that allows licensed gun owners to bring their weapons into more public buildings in Kansas.

Public universities and colleges have taken a four-year exemption under the law.