The big ask: Higher education seeks $161 million budget increase from lawmakers

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Appeal touches on tuition, inflation as well as financial aid and IT infrastructure

TOPEKA — The board responsible for oversight of the state’s public universities and colleges adopted a $161.6 million budget request to be submitted to Gov. Laura Kelly in advance of the 2022 legislative session.

Members of the Kansas Board of Regents crafted a recommendation that would allocate $130.7 million to the six core state universities and Washburn University in Topeka. The community and technical colleges would be in line for $27.5 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.

More than three-fourths of the funding would be devoted to base operating budgets of the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and the state universities in Hays, Emporia, Pittsburg and Wichita. Board members agreed Thursday to seek $26.1 million allocation to reflect a 1.9% higher education inflation rate, $14.9 million to avoid tuition hikes in the 2022-2023 academic year and restoration of $4.7 million cut from the budget in 2021.

“I believe inflation is real. I’m seeing it in our business,” said Board of Regents member Jon Rolph, who is president of Thrive Restaurant Group with more than 100 restaurants scattered across a dozen states.

Other big-ticket items on the state university wish list: $25 million for need-based student financial aid; $25 million for a public-private capital partnership; $20 million for information technology modernization; and $10 million for economic development activities.

The technical and community colleges would receive $27.5 million, with much of that money addressing credit-hour increases and campus proposals for one-time expenditures.

The Board of Regents also sought $2.1 million for Washburn University, $1 million to address high demand in the Kansas National Guard scholarship program and about $300,000 for the office of the Board of Regents.

Cheryl Harrison-Lee, chairwoman of the Board of Regents, said the overall request was designed to build the state’s pipeline of human talent wanted by business, help graduates secure good jobs and wages, and to assist with expansion of the economy.

“The regents’ budget request will allow our system to advance economic prosperity and increase access for students, especially those from traditionally underserved populations,” said Harrison-Lee, of Overland Park.

Lawrence board member Wint Winter said state law mandated the Board of Regents serve as advocates of higher education. The proposal submitted to the governor fits that framework, he said.

“We have an obligation as advocates to say as forcefully and persuasively as possible that here is what we believe is needed for our institutions to carry out their mandate to help students achieve their full potential,” Winter said.

The Board of Regents’ budget request could be undermined by requirements of federal COVID-19 relief programs that provided billions of dollars to the state. Under the disaster relief statutes, the Kansas Legislature could be forced to earmark $53 million annually to demonstrate “maintenance of effort” in education spending.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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