Legislative tour stops at K-State

Officials focus on funds for higher education

By Bryan Richardson

State legislators sought answers Tuesday related to K-State’s budget, highlighting an increased focus on higher education.

Members of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees visited the campus as a part of their biennial bus tour.

The tour to various Kansas universities ran from Oct. 22 through Wednesday.

Sue Peterson, governmental relations director at K-State, said the legislators typically visit other state agencies during tours but limited this tour to higher education institutions.

Peterson said the university set the agenda on past tours, but the legislators had a more proactive approach this time.

“The legislature prepared a list of questions in advance, so they could study the responses of all the universities,” she said.

Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said the previous tours she has done as a member of the appropriations committee didn’t provide a lot of time to get a deep understanding of universities.

“Education is the biggest cost driver of our budget,” she said. “We have to look at how we fund it.”

Carlin included K-12 in this discussion, since the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court on an inadequate funding lawsuit would greatly impact the budget.

The court is deciding whether to uphold a lower court’s decision which would require the state to increase its base aid per pupil from $3,838 to $4,492. It would cost the state at least $440 million.

“We really have to face the issue of what to do after this judgment is made,” Carlin said.

The tour comes after the legislature passed a budget in June that reduced total higher education funding by $66 million over the next two years.

The cuts included a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut for each of the next two years and a cap on salary expenses.

State universities responded by increasing tuition to cover the cost, which furthered the trend of tuition increasing greatly while state funding remained mostly stagnant.

From fiscal year 2002 to FY13, tuition revenue at K-State increased by 256.59 percent while state revenue decreased by 0.6 percent.

This fiscal year at K-State, tuition is expected to generate $209.8 million in revenue after the seven percent tuition increase, and the state is providing $159.68 million.

The university has received more money from students than the state since the 2011-12 academic year.

K-State president Kirk Schulz, who presented information to the legislators, said he appreciated the visit.

“The difficulties facing public higher education are significant, and discussions on ways that Kansas higher education can work more effectively with the legislature are always welcome,” he said.

Peterson said the university budget is complex, and the tour provides a good opportunity for understanding.

“It’s hard for a legislature to get a lot of details in a 90-day session,” Peterson said.

The legislators also toured campus.

Carlin said the condition of Seaton Hall, home of the architecture college, highlighted the continued need for the state to provide for facilities.

“We’re talking about slate on the floors that’s chipped,” she said. “I’m really glad we brought this group to see that.”

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