by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
September 21, 2023
TOPEKA — The Kansas Board of Regents deleted one-third of the extraordinary budget increase sought by public state universities in an effort to prepare a politically credible higher education spending plan for consideration by Gov. Laura Kelly and the 2024 Legislature.
The heavy lifting gleaned more than $200 million from budget enhancements envisioned by six universities in the fiscal year starting in July 2024. Amendments included replacement of a $150 million proposal to supercharge faculty and staff recruiting and retention at research universities in Lawrence, Manhattan and Wichita with a miniaturized $10 million initiative. An $18 million earmark for the regional universities in Hays, Pittsburg and Emporia was sliced in half rather than discarded.
The budget outline scheduled for a final board vote Thursday would raise spending by $30 million for building improvement or demolition, $15 million for IT cybersecurity and $7 million for operational expenditures at the universities. Each of those categories were downsized from the original proposal. There also would be $14 million for need-based student aid and $9.5 million for student academic success initiatives, which would be unchanged from the current year.
“This is a point in time and part of our process you get to see how the sausage is made,” said Jon Rolph, chairman of the Board of Regents. “We’ve got too many good ideas right now.”
Board members intend to submit a special request in January for restoration of $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars stripped from $142 million dedicated to the proposed Wichita Biomedical Campus. It is to be operated by Wichita State University and the University of Kansas. The money for the facility was temporarily withdrawn after the 2023 Legislature redirected too many ARPA dollars to other projects.
Wint Winter, a member of the Board of Regents and a former state senator from Lawrence, said the unprioritized draft of a $570 million spending hike submitted by the 32 public universities, community colleges and technical colleges for review by the board would be dead on arrival at the Capitol if forwarded without revision.
“I can tell you that many people in the Legislature would look at that and say, ‘What are they thinking?’” Winter said. “I’m concerned that we’re not doing our job by sending over a budget that is $570 million without any indication from us about which of these items are the most important.”
“Most, if not all of that request, would be dismissed. Our advocacy is muted if we send over a budget request that we know is nowhere close to being that which will be funded,” he said.
State lawmakers appropriated slightly more than $1 billion in the current year’s higher education budget. The Republican-led Legislature and the Democratic governor approved a $220 million increase in spending for higher education in the current fiscal year. In the previous budget year, the increase in state aid was $162 million. Both were adopted during a period in which the state treasury was flush with surplus tax revenue.
Ken Hush, president of Emporia State University, pleaded with the Board of Regents not to discard the $18 million sought by Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University and ESU to deal with financial problems associated with stagnant or declining enrollment. PSU president Dan Shipp urged the board to submit a request for $9 million in the upcoming year and seek a second installment of $9 million in the subsequent year for the three universities.
“This is about stabilization,” Hush said. “Enrollment is declining nationwide. We’ve all talked about it. This is truly about stabilization and the initiatives that we need.”
Still to be resolved by the Board of Regents were requests for additional state funding to community colleges and technical colleges in addition to significant one-time requests from universities.
Ethan Erickson, vice president for administration and finance at Kansas State University, appealed for $25 million to support a collection of new or renovated buildings that would be tied to an agriculture innovation center dedicated to beef, dairy and grain science research and instruction. The land-grant university has identified $133 million for the agricultural development project budgeted at $208 million, he said.
He also spoke in favor of KSU’s solicitation of $10 million in state tax dollars for a water research institute to tackle quality and quantity challenges. The institute would delve into water scarcity as well as food production and urban planning for benefit of the state, he said.
“We think this is the No. 1 challenge for the state of Kansas to work on,” Erickson said.
KU requested $75 million in state funding for construction of a new regional cancer research and clinical treatment facility on the medical center campus in Kansas City, Kansas. The project could cost as much as $500 million, a Board of Regents document said. In June, KU announced a $100 million donation from the Sunderland Foundation and allocation of $43 million in federal funding for the state-of-the-art facility.
Wichita State proposed the Board of Regents endorse $10 million to support student retention and workforce development through creation of applied learning opportunities with businesses that would go beyond a traditional internship.
Meanwhile, Pittsburg State said it would collaborate with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on construction of a criminology center on the campus in southeast Kansas. The specific budget request for the KBI center hasn’t been made public. In 2015, KBI opened a $55 million forensic science laboratory and classroom facility at Washburn University in Topeka.
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