We appreciate the Kansas Legislature’s crusade to cut income taxes, though in our view lawmakers have gone too far too fast. And we understand that when legislators cut state revenue at the rate they have the last two years, there’s a lot less for valid state programs.
What we have a harder time understanding is the disdain some Republican leaders have for education, particularly higher education. It was evident in their reactions to a funding proposal the Kansas Board of Regents is considering.
What board members are leaning toward is agreeing to maintain tuition at the present levels for the 2015-16 school year if the Legislature will restore $36 million in funding that it cut from higher education this spring. The Regents’ request wouldn’t involve any new money.
“I think it would be a powerful message,” said Kenny Wilk, a longtime legislator who is vice president of the board.
Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick, both conservatives, had a decidedly different message. Rep. Merrick told the Lawrence Journal World, “It’s disappointing that the Regents are openly using students as hostages to unnecessarily extract money from taxpayers.”
Sen. Wagle was no less harsh. “Positioning Kansas students and families as bargaining chips in a budget debate is the wrong tactic.”
As for Rep. Merrick’s cheap shot, it’s disappointing that conservative legislative leaders hold higher education in such contempt that they would slash funding even as legislatures in the overwhelming majority of other states were boosting aid to higher ed.
Sen. Wagle’s remark is also hogwash. It is she and her fellow conservative lawmakers — not the Regents institutions — who are making a public college education in this state harder for students and their families to afford.
Sen. Wagle and Rep. Merrick would like Kansans to believe that the Regents are asking for the moon and seem to think that the right tactic for the Regents should be to surrender to mediocrity.
If the Regents formalize their proposal next month, it would be the first time in 30 years that the board hasn’t sought a funding increase. What the Regents seek from the Legislature is quite modest, and we’re confident that most Kansans will recognize it as such.
We hope that when the time comes, Sen. Wagle and Rep. Merrick will too.