Kansas Board of Regents to seek restoration of $35 million cut from university budgets

Board member says plea ‘tone deaf’ to looming state budget woes

The Kansas Board of Regents will ask Gov. Laura Kelly and the 2021 Kansas Legislature to restore $35 million cut from university budgets despite a plea from Mark Hutton, a Wichita member of the board, the request will be viewed by lawmakers as
The Kansas Board of Regents will ask Gov. Laura Kelly and the 2021 Kansas Legislature to restore $35 million cut from university budgets despite a plea from Mark Hutton, a Wichita member of the board, the request will be viewed by lawmakers as "tone deaf" to the state's significant budget problems. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Board of Regents adopted a budget proposal Thursday earmarking $643 million in state tax dollars for public universities that would restore $35 million cut by Gov. Laura Kelly in response to a dramatic revenue shortfall.

The overall state budget conversation is complicated by an anticipated $1 billion gap between current expenditures and revenue estimates that must be resolved by the Democratic governor and Republican-led Legislature.

Board members discussed and rejected the idea of incorporating the budget allotment ordered by Kelly into a base request of $608 million for next fiscal year.

Board of Regents members Shane Bangerter of Dodge City and Alan Schmidt of Hays said the budget request should match the $643 million originally authorized by the 2020 Legislature but slashed when the governor was compelled to begin addressing the shortfall.

Steve Scott, president of Pittsburg State University, said surrendering at this stage to the $35 million allotment was self-defeating. The state budget director has said the Board of Regents and other agencies could be targeted with a 10% budget reduction, he said.

“I’m concerned about backing off to that ($608 million) number knowing there’s more coming,” Scott said. “I worry we’re going in with a low figure that doesn’t represent the needs.”

Kelly is responsible for presenting a new state budget to the Legislature in January applicable to a fiscal year starting July 1.

Mark Hutton, an Andover member of the Board of Regents and a former member of the Kansas House, said the elevated budget recommendation could be viewed by lawmakers as a signal the state board and state university administrators in Lawrence, Manhattan, Hays, Emporia, Pittsburg and Wichita were above sharing pain of a budget crisis.

“That’s going to be viewed by the Legislature as incredibly tone deaf to the fiscal dilemma that this state is going to find itself in. I think it would be detrimental to our message that we’re team players in this state,” Hutton said.

Jon Rolph, a Wichita member of the Board of Regents, said the university system should voluntarily be part of the solution to the tax revenue problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Eating the lumps of the loss that we took in the allotments and making it work for another year, we thought, was taking our part of the pie,” Rolph said.

The Board of Regents’ budget would renew for 10 years a program created to produce more engineering graduates. It would initiate a pilot program to enroll more underrepresented Latino and Black students as well as first-generation college students.

The proposal endorsed legislation that would permit K-12 school districts to pay for students to take college-level classes. It also would establish a goal of developing in 2022 of a $13.5 million fund to deal with maintenance of campus buildings.