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Kansas universities unite in effort to restore funding

Washburn University

Washburn University

Kansas universities are uniting in an appeal to restore higher education spending after two years of multimillion-dollar state budget cuts.

Political debate about the future of taxpayers financing the 32-school Kansas Board of Regents system returns to the forefront when the 2014 Legislature is scheduled to start this week in Topeka.

Officials at Washburn University, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas say they won’t be shy about arguing for stronger state investment in higher education. They want to see the restoration of $23 million in the current fiscal year and $25 million that was scheduled to be withdrawn in the upcoming fiscal year.

“It’s important for Kansas to support higher education so that we can have a better-educated populous and workforce,” Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said. “This gets lost in the shuffle sometimes when we talk about tax policies and tax rates. If we cannot produce the workforce that industry needs, they will go elsewhere.”

Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor of the main University of Kansas campus in Lawrence and the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., said thriving universities were a major component in the quest to draw companies and innovators to the state.

And Washburn University President Jerry Farley said Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to deliver state government aid to districts for all-day kindergarten throughout Kansas was a good sign. But while Brownback vowed to push for about $80 million necessary to expand kindergarten offerings, he has yet to make a firm public commitment about reversal of the higher education cuts.

“The better educated we are, the better the economy has done,” said Farley, who worries retrenchment in public education would diminish the middle class. “I don’t think there is any question about it. That’s what will occur.”

“The question is: How long will it be before we’re willing again to invest in education at all levels?” Farley asked.

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