Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Higher ed officials poring over budget figures in face of House speaker’s memo on spending

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Higher education officials are poring over budget figures to clear up what they think are legislators' misperceptions about their spending.

Republican leaders cut funding to universities during the 2013 session, and armed with a Kansas Policy Institute report, they appear unmoved by requests from schools to restore those funds.

House Speaker Ray Merrick's office has distributed a 12-page memo on various budget issues.

On higher education over the past decade, it says, "In summation: state funding has remained static; enrollment has increased 12 percent; inflation has only increased 25 percent; yet tuition has grown 136.9 percent.

"Over this same 10-year period, General Use administrative costs (Institutional Support) have increased 78 percent, more than three times the rate of inflation."

The numbers come directly from a report by the Wichita-based KPI, which advocates for lower government spending. KPI's data collection is often cited by Republican legislative leaders.

Andy Tompkins, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the tuition increases came at a time when Kansas University and Kansas State University were trying to catch up with tuition rates with peer institutions.

In 2009, as state revenues tanked, the higher education budget was cut by 12 percent, or $100 million.

Currently, KU ranks 26th in tuition and fees out of 34 public universities in the Association of American Universities.

And higher education officials say there may be some confusion about the claims of skyrocketing administrative costs.

Tompkins said he plans to get with Dave Trabert, the president of KPI, to go over the figures.

Earlier this month, legislative leaders and members of the House and Senate budget-writing committees concluded tours of the public universities.

At the KU visit, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and Speaker Merrick, R-Stilwell, said it was too early to tell what the legislative position would be on higher education funding.

Last session, the Republican-dominated Legislature cut $34.3 million in state funding over two years to the public universities, making Kansas one of the few states in the country to reduce higher education funding.

Regents said the cuts responsible for a portion of the most recent tuition increases.