While Kansas lawmakers are poised to haggle over a proposed $150 million in cuts to education, leaders of the state’s public universities said steep reductions could cost students and families in higher tuition.
“We are grateful for the state’s historic support, (but) it is disappointing to see this legislative committee’s recommendation,” said Zoe Newton, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents. “Attempting to balance the state’s budget on the back of public higher education is misguided.”
The Kansas Senate is set to debate on Thursday a bill that would cut 3 percent, or more than $22 million, from higher education, and recommends other cuts for some state agencies. Another $128 million would be cut from K-12 education in the current year.
These cuts run contrary to Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget recommendations, which would not reduce aid for the current year but propose cutting $47 million next year and $89 million the following year for K-12 education.
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“If we continue to see the reductions that we’ve seen, it’s really a signal to pass the costs on to students, parents and families,” said Blake Flanders, president and chief executive of the Board of Regents, which governs the 32 public higher-education institutions in Kansas including its six four-year state universities.
Newton said Kansas higher education has seen more than $75 million in cuts over the past three years. Of those reductions, she said, $38 million was already taken from this year’s budget.
“If the Legislature were to approve this recommendation to cut an additional $22.7 million, this late in the current fiscal year, it will be signaling support for further shifting the cost of higher education to our students and their families.”
Still, individual universities spoke hopefully about avoiding more cuts.
“It is very early, and there will be many ideas proposed between now and when the session finishes in May,” said Tim Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs at the University of Kansas. He said KU is continuing “to work with the Legislature to identify ways to restore last year’s cuts to KU and create stable funding for all of higher education.”
Last year’s cuts for KU totaled $10.7 million.
School districts would have no way to recoup the loss other than to pull money from reserves, putting some of them in a risky financial position, said Randy Watson, Kansas’ commissioner of education.
“This late in the game, teacher contracts are already settled, our fixed costs are already there,” Watson said. “It would have to come out of reserves, and while some school districts may have those in reserve, it would deplete those entirely.”
Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy at the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the lower school districts reserves fall, “the more vulnerable districts are to any unplanned expense or reduction in revenue.”
At Olathe Public Schools, officials said such a deep slash in K-12 funding would mean cutting about $6.3 million between now and June 30.
The Star’s Hunter Woodall contributed to this story.