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HPPR Government & Politics

Kansas Higher Education Funding: The Search for Middle Ground

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Negotiations may be on the horizon for higher education spending, but the Wichita Eagle reports agreement seems a long way off.

Legislators and leaders agree on the following:

  • There is more at stake than the future of state universities
  • The outcome will make Kansas a better place to live

Gene Suellentrop: vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Marc Rhoades: House Appropriations Committee Chairman , Susan Wagle: Senate president, and Wichita Representatives: Mark Hutton and Steve Brunk, outlined the following concerns:  

  • The six-figure salaries of university leaders
  • The work habits of high-salaried educators
  • The lack of university participation with legislators requesting spending explanations

On the other side of the coin, Andy Schlapp, WSU’s lobbyist government relations representative, made the following points:

  • State support was 75% of WSU’s budget in the 1970s, currently it’s about 22%. With that in mind, Schlapp says it’s hard to make the argument the university’s spending is out of control.
  • Continued WSU cuts could hurt local industry.  Kansas is an industrial state, not ag, or oil and gas.  The state’s largest employer is Spirit AeroSystems of Wichita with 10,800 employees.  Cessna Aircraft Co. employs 5,000; Bombardier 2,500, Beechcraft Corp. 1,500; Koch Industries 3,000.  Schlapp says it doesn’t make sense to cut back university engineer training for the largest employers in the state.

Schlapp also said he is puzzled by the shift in Rhoades, who was key to securing funding for the $3.5 million Engineering Initiative two years ago, yet has been very critical of universities this year. 
The why of politics can be incomprehensible. When you think you have it figured out, you may be surprised as Fort Hays State University Political Science Professor Chapman Rockaway points out here.