Thursday, August 15, 2013

Regents say restoring cuts, new health education building at KU Med are top priorities

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas Board of Regents today said its top priorities would be restoring public universities' funds cut by the Legislature and pushing again for help from the state to build a $75 million health education building at the Kansas University Medical Center.

"I want to work with the Legislature," said Regents Chairman Fred Logan of Leawood.

The board concluded its annual retreat in Valley Falls and will take an official vote next month on priorities for the 2014 legislative session, which starts in January.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she was glad to hear of the regents' continued support for the medical building proposal.

"It's encouraging to me that they have made a commitment to the health education facility and that we are going to continue to try to get funds for that building," Gray-Little said.

Gov. Sam Brownback said he supports the building too. "We need more docs," he said.

During the last session, Republican legislative leaders essentially sidelined the project.

KU is requesting $25 million from a FICA refund and $15 million in tax dollars to help build the facility. 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.

The regents budget request, once officially approved in September, will then be forwarded to Brownback for his consideration. Brownback then will recommend a budget to the Legislature.

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.

The regents also said they would consider a proposal to keep tuition rates flat next year if the Legislature restores $36 million in funding cuts. But legislative leaders have sharply criticized that idea, saying the regents were trying to hold students hostage in return for state funding.