Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kansas higher education budget approved by House committee

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — A House committee on Monday recommended an increased higher education budget that mostly follows the recommendation of Gov. Sam Brownback.

The proposal would restore some funding that was cut from universities last year by Brownback and Republican legislative leaders, and would advance several initiatives at Kansas University.

The measure was adopted on a voice vote by the House Appropriations Committee.

It includes $2 million for the Kansas Institute for Translational Chemical Biology, which would work to promote state-of-the art drug discovery and development, and $70,000 for the Rural Health Bridging Program at KU Medical Center, which encourages primary care physicians to work in rural Kansas.

The bill also has language that would allow KU to issue $25 million in bonds for the school's Earth Energy Environment Center.

The bill also follows Brownback's recommendation to spend $10.9 million over two years to restore some of the salary-based reductions that were adopted last year.

One of the big items missing from Brownback’s budget is KU’s request for some funding to start construction on a $75 million health education building. KU officials have said the current medical building is outdated and that surrounding states have been opening modern facilities, making it more difficult to attract students to KU. The House Appropriations proposal doesn't include funding for the health education building either.

During discussion of the budget, Republican legislative leaders defended the cuts they instituted last year, saying they were needed to hold the schools fiscally accountable. Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the schools have yet to make the case that the cuts should be restored.

But state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said the cuts were made without knowing what impact they would have.