The Kansas Board of Regents agreed to make restoration of $24 million slashed by Gov. Sam Brownback from state appropriations to universities and colleges last year to plug a budget shortfall its top priority in the 2018 Legislature.
The board decided to make repairing damage of that 4 percent emergency reduction in state aid to higher education the unifying theme of lobbying among regents and campus leaders.
“We need to keep our messaging simple. Everybody agrees — restore the cuts,” said Shane Bangerter, a member of the Board of Regents from Dodge City.
Wichita regent Dave Murfin, chairman of the higher education board, said discussion at a board meeting in August showed broad interest in making the system whole following the allotment ordered by the governor.
“There was clear consensus we want to advocate for restoration,” Murfin said.
In the process of affirming the No. 1 goal, the board voted to establish a three-tier priority list for funding proposals developed by officials at state universities and the community and technical colleges.
There is strategic advantage in clearly outlining the board’s objectives, said Bill Feuerborn, a regent from Garnett who served in the Kansas House for 18 years.
“I don’t want us to get back to the way it was several years ago, when each university would go in and lobby and then the Legislature would cut each one of them in half or pick one or two,” Feuerborn said.
The second level features only two items, including a request for $4 million to meet the state’s full commitment to pay tuition of high school students enrolled in technical education courses.
This is a popular tuition assistance program launched by Brownback five years ago to better prepare Kansans for the workplace, but technical schools providing the classes didn’t receive about one-fifth of $25 million expected from the state to cover the cost.
The other item in the second tier was a plea for $535,000 in state aid for the nursing school at Emporia State University. Regents Helen Van Etten, of Topeka, and Zoe Newton, of Sedan, were unsuccessful in persuading board colleagues to make the ESU request a top tier proposal.
The third level contains about two dozen initiatives, led by the $32 million proposal to create a dental school at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. The board agreed to earmark money to develop plans for remodeling Dykes Library for the school of dentistry. In addition to construction costs, KUMC estimated start-up expenditures at $11 million and ongoing operational costs of $6.5 million annually.
The long-range list also included $900,000 for a science education initiative at Washburn University, $10 million for an agriculture extension building at Kansas State University and $20 million for deferred building maintenance throughout the higher education system.