In addition to the beginning of spring classes, this week also marked the start of the 2010 Legislative Session. State leaders face serious budget challenges, but I was gratified to hear Governor Mark Parkinson begin the session on Monday with a strong endorsement of the benefits universities provide to Kansas.
In his State of the State Address, which you can read at governor.ks.gov, Parkinson urged lawmakers to continue Kansas' tradition of investing in public K-12 schools and universities - a tradition dating back to the founding of the state.
Parkinson said that, "if you want to keep the best and brightest in a state, you must create a great higher education system to retain them. If you want to attract the best and brightest from other states, you must have great higher education. If you want to provide a workforce for the future, you build great universities, technical schools and community colleges."
The governor related how he and his wife both attended Kansas public schools, and how they both went to the KU School of Law. He said their lives have been prosperous because of the education they received here in Kansas, and called on lawmakers to give the next generation of Kansans those same opportunities.
Governor Parkinson also strongly supported KU's drive for National Cancer Institute designation for our cancer center, a view that was shared by House Speaker Mike O'Neal in his official response to the governor's speech.
The governor's budget proposal holds higher education funding steady for the remainder of FY 2010. It also proposes a small increase of $10 million in FY 2011 for the Regents system, though it does eliminate planned funding for deferred maintenance projects and make other changes, the effects of which are still being analyzed.
This level of funding is still well below what higher education received in recent years and is dependent on the Legislature identifying approximately $380 million in new revenue. The governor has proposed a temporary one-cent sales tax increase and an increase in the cigarette tax to achieve this goal, yet it is unclear whether legislators will agree with these proposals.
What is clear, however, is that if new revenue is not found, KU and educational institutions around the state will likely be in for yet another round of cuts.
We have already sustained more than $36 million in cuts and unfunded mandates. Further cuts will harm our students and our research efforts, and will impair Kansas' economic growth by continuing to constrict our ability to educate the next generation of Kansans.
Of course, we are in the opening days of a 90-day legislative session, and there will be many twists and turns along the way. KU and its allies, such as the Jayhawks for Higher Education, will advocate on behalf of the students, faculty and staff of the university, because by doing so we are advocating for the future prosperity of Kansas.
I also want to thank you for the work you do every day, because it is KU's strongest selling point. Telling the KU story is easy when you provide such great stories to tell.