Kansas House shifts burden of K-12 funding onto backs of university students

One of two plans emerging from a divided Kansas Legislature for meeting the Supreme Court's order to provide appropriate funding for K-12 students in the state's public schools would raid the budgets of the six Kansas Board of Regents universities.

That plan, which was formulated by the Appropriations Committee of the Kansas House of Representatives, will go to the full House this Thursday for action.

Meanwhile, the Ways and Means Committee of the Kansas Senate has formulated a different plan, similar to the budget proposed earlier by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, that would preserve funding for higher education. That bill goes to the full Senate for action on Friday

" The budget proposed by the Republican leadership in the House would force students in the six Regents universities to raise between $12.5 million and $25 million in tuition and fees to fund K-12 education," warned Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University. "What they're really doing is putting a multi-million-dollar tax increase on the backs of college students."

FHSU has kept its tuition increases to single digits during the recent difficult budget years while many other universities have raised tuition by as much as 25 percent. "This would require the first double-digit tuition increase during my 17 years as FHSU president," Dr. Hammond said.

The Senate's proposed legislation provides money for the previous Senate Bill 345, which was passed by both houses of the 1999 Legislature but has never been fully funded. It would provide $8.9 million in block grants for Washburn University and the state's community colleges and another $3.3 million for faculty salaries at the Regents universities. FHSU would receive $170,338 of that $3.3 million. The proposed Senate bill also would fully fund $18 million in block grants for the universities, which would be used to pay for 2.5-percent salary increases and an increase in death and disability funding. Of that amount, FHSU would receive $1,164,000, which would also provide money for small increases in operating expenses.

The proposed Senate bill differs from the governor's budget in only one respect. It makes no recommendation for funding the extra pay period that results every 11 years under the state's biweekly pay system.

The legislation proposed by the House committee is radically different. It raids all but $3.2 million from the $18-million block grants for higher education.

" How can the House support full block-grant funding for Washburn and the community colleges and take millions of dollars from us?" President Hammond asked. He noted that FHSU's share of the block grants would fall from $1,164,000 to only $270,000 under the proposed House bill.

" The House plan is grossly inequitable, but that's only the tip of the iceberg," he said, adding that the House proposes to fund the 2.5-percent raises for university employees for only the last quarter of the year and use the remaining funds for K-12 education.

The House plan would require the universities to take that missing $12.5 million to $25 million from their special revenue funds. "We would have to increase housing rates and tuition and Memorial Union fees to make up that difference," the president explained. "So, while the House Republicans are saying they don't want to tax people, they're forcing us to increase tuition and fees for our students by as much as an additional 10 percent."

" Even worse," he said, "legislators would have to find a new revenue source in the following year for permanent K-12 funding to replace the money taken from salary increases in the next budget year."

President Hammond had announced recently that FHSU would need only a 5- percent increase in tuition for the 2005-2006 school year under the budget proposed by Gov. Sebelius. "The House proposal would force us to increase tuition by roughly 15 percent," he said.

The recent spate of high increases in tuition nationwide has caused alarm over the decreasing access to higher education that inevitably results. Congress has even considered legislation to put limits on tuition increases.

Kansas has dropped 5.5 percent over the past 10 years in the percentage of high school graduates going on to college, and only nine other states dropped more during that time period. "This action by the House could deprive many Kansans of the opportunity to improve their lives through higher education," President Hammond said. "It would take our state backward."

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