Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Legislator fears more higher ed cuts

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — As legislators started work Monday on the higher education budget, one legislator said he feared more cuts were in store from Republican leaders.

To prepare for that possibility, state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, called on universities and other post-secondary institutions to provide information to the House Education Budget Committee on what the impact of more cuts would be.

Last year, Republican leaders and Gov. Sam Brownback cut higher education budgets by about 3 percent for the current fiscal year and kept it at about that level for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That cut totaled $13.5 million at Kansas University.

Henry said when GOP legislators are looking for funds to cut from the budget they increasingly look at higher education

"It seems to be a pattern," he said.

In addition, he said that if the Kansas Supreme Court rules in a pending school finance lawsuit that the Legislature must increase funding to public schools, that may put more pressure on higher education funding.

Henry's comments came as the Education Budget Committee started looking at proposed changes to the higher education budget for the next fiscal year.

As the 2014 legislative session started, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said he thought universities should cut more administrative expenses.

Meanwhile, in a Senate committee, higher education officials Monday urged legislators to endorse a goal of increasing to 60 percent by 2020 the number of Kansans who have earned a postsecondary certificate, credential or degree.

Currently, about 52 percent of Kansans acquire a postsecondary credit.

Kansas Board of Regents President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Tompkins said the 60 percent goal is crucial to the long-term prosperity of the state.

But state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said, "That sounds somewhat like an elitist statement." Tyson said she knows many economically successful people who didn't get a degree.

But Regents Vice Chairman Kenny Wilk said that on average "there is an absolute, direct correlation between education attainment" and earnings.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1616 asks the Legislature to endorse the goals of the regents' long-term plan called Foresight 2020.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said the committee would probably vote on the measure later this week.