Archive for Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kansas among few states that cut funding to universities

July 16, 2013

Topeka — With the economy rebounding, most states are increasing funds to higher education.

Not Kansas.

Kansas was one of only five states, along with Louisiana, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, that chopped funding to public universities, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Meanwhile, 37 states funded universities at a higher amount for the fiscal year that started July 1 than the previous fiscal year. Five states provided flat funding this year compared to last.

Data from New Mexico and North Carolina weren’t available by the time the study was completed last week, and Missouri’s figure could change based on the state’s General Assembly in September, the report said.

The survey showed that after significant budget cuts to higher education during the Great Recession, states’ economies were improving, and that was good news for higher education.

“Two years removed from the largest decline in state higher education funding in nearly a half century, state lawmakers have used increases in state revenues to begin reinvesting in public higher education,” the AASCU report said. In fiscal year 2012, only eight states had increased funding.

The average increase in higher education funding this year was 3.6 percent.

Of the states that cut funding, Louisiana’s was the deepest at 17.6 percent.

In Kansas, Republicans approved approximately $44 million in cuts to universities over two years. For each of those years, the schools are looking at cuts of about 3 percent.

Gov. Sam Brownback, also a Republican, signed the cuts into law but said he would work to restore funding next year.

Kansas Board of Regents Vice Chairman Kenny Wilk, of Basehor, said on Monday that increasing funding to higher education was key to helping the Kansas economy.

“It’s not just about the universities,” Wilk said. “It’s about the overall health and well-being of our state and growing our economy. I think it’s a great investment.”

Regent member Ed McKechnie, of Arcadia, said increasing the number of people with post-secondary degrees lowers the unemployment rate and raises the standard of living. “That is why there is a state interest to invest in education,” he said. Both Wilk and McKechnie are former legislators; Wilk a Republican, and McKechnie, a Democrat.

But while House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, agreed that higher education plays an important role in the state’s economy, he added, “However, that does not mean they should not be held accountable for the way they spend taxpayer money. There seems to be an appetite for spending more dollars every year.”

He said tuition increases have far exceeded the rate of inflation since 2000, adding that he “would like to see them (universities) be more budget conscious.”

Regents members have said recent tuition increases were higher because the Legislature reduced funding.

Mary Jane Stankiewicz, a spokeswoman for the regents, said state funding for state universities is less now than in 2001. "The reduction of state funding has shifted costs from the state to the students. State funding has not kept up with inflation or the rising cost of doing business," she said.

Under the budget bill, the Kansas University Medical Center will lose $8.3 million over two years, and the Lawrence campus, $5.3 million.

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