Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, joined Christine Downey-Schmidt, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, in expressing appreciation for the Fiscal Year 2009 budget recommendations for higher education that have been proposed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
"The governor's proposed budget contains five provisions that will have significantly positive impacts on our university," President Hammond said today from Topeka. "This is the best budget for FHSU that has been proposed by any governor during my 20 years as president. With her proposal, Gov. Sebelius has once again demonstrated her understanding of the vital role higher education plays in providing a high quality of life for the people of Kansas."
In a news release issued by the Board of Regents, Downey-Schmidt offered similar praise. "The Board is certainly pleased that Gov. Sebelius has proposed a budget that recognizes higher education as a critically important priority," she said. "In what many would describe as a lean or constrained budget year, the governor has recommended meaningful investments in higher education that are absolutely essential for enhancing this state's future."
President Hammond cited the five areas of impact for FHSU:
∑ Postsecondary Education Opportunity Grant -- The governor proposed $35 million for what is commonly referred to as block grants for the budgets of the Regents universities. That is an overall increase of 4.4 percent from the current fiscal year. FHSU can expect to see an increase in its block grant next year, although the exact distribution formula remains to be determined by the Regents. If distributed as before, FHSU could expect to receive $1.6 million, which would provide for 2.5-percent salary increases.
∑ Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science -- The governor proposed new funding of $150,000, which will be added to the $100,000 that was previously allocated by the Legislature, to create a statewide academy at FHSU that will identify 80 of the best and brightest high school juniors and seniors in math and science and immerse them in an exceptional learning environment. President Hammond said the $250,000 falls $45,000 short of what is needed, but he was optimistic that the Legislature would add the additional dollars. The funding is for the "bridge year," which includes hiring a director, hiring faculty and selecting students. The academy will open in fall 2009 with 40 or 50 students.
∑ Student Financial Aid -- The governor recommended substantial student financial assistance enhancements of $4.35 million over the current year's allocation of $24.9 million, an increase of 17.4 percent. President Hammond observed that this increase had special significance for FHSU, which has an unusually high percentage of students who receive need-based financial aid.
∑ Educational Building Fund -- The state levy for building maintenance at the Regents universities generated about $30 million this year, with about half that revenue used to pay outstanding bonds. The governor proposed using new revenue from expanded gaming to pay off the bonds, leaving all the approximately $30 million next year to be allocated to the universities. FHSU would expect an increase of about $1 million over the $1.36 million it received this year for building maintenance.
∑ Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms -- The governor recommended $209,430 in new money for salaries and other operational expenses at the new center, now under construction, that will be managed by FHSU's Sternberg Museum of Natural History. Together with $100,000 in carryover funding, that would provide more than $300,000 for the center's first year of operations.
The budget proposed by Gov. Sebelius did not include funding for FHSU's new Professional Science Masters Program, which would provide advanced training in science and mathematics while simultaneously developing important workplace skills. President Hammond said he was hopeful the Legislature would provide dollars to create this much-needed area of study for people in professional technical jobs who need an advanced degree.
"We are fully aware that the governor's budget proposal is only the first step in the process, albeit an extremely important one, and that the Legislature must now draft legislation to create the state's FY09 budget," he said. "Nonetheless, we are extremely pleased by the leadership Gov. Sebelius has shown. Her proposed budget was especially amazing for what is expected to be such a tight fiscal year. We are confident the Legislature will provide funding for higher education that will enable the people of Kansas to seize the many opportunities that await us."