Capitol Update: Rep. Woodard says state needs to increase investment in higher education

Rep. Brandon Woodard

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Nancy Lusk, Rep. Brandon Woodard and Sen. Pat Pettey are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Woodard’s filing:

With the first three weeks of the legislative session under my belt, it’s become clear – even to us freshmen — that things don’t work as transparently or as quickly as we’d like them to under the statehouse dome.

Kansas State and other universities have seen tuition increase as state budget support has floundered. Photo credit Russell Feldhausen. Used under a Creative Commons license.

While much of the discussion has centered on the Governor’s budget, Medicaid expansion, and K-12 school funding, we are overdue to start the conversation about the decade of failing our higher education system here in Kansas, harming our future workforce and economy. To begin putting Kansas back on track, Gov. Kelly’s budget recommendation nodded to higher education, restoring the remaining $9 million in cuts implemented by former Gov. Brownback in FY 2017.

Restoring the cuts from 2017 is a good start, but that only gets us back to the funding levels of 2017, which would still be about $75 million behind where Kansas stood in 2007. The bad news? That doesn’t even account for inflation. According to the Kansas Board of Regents, tuition made up about 49 percent of the revenue at our state institutions in 2007, while tuition makes up 71 percent of the cost of education in 2017. That increase in tuition is a direct effect of the cuts to higher education, but has not provided enough support to increase the salaries of staff, faculty, and student employees. At the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, state support makes up just under 18 percent of the overall budget. We can and must do better than that.

Decreasing state support, and the tuition increases those cuts have created, for our four-year universities, community colleges, and vocational and technical education institutions have burdened an entire generation of young Kansans. The average student debt load of a four-year university graduate in Kansas is just under $28,000. Kansas, which used to be known for its excellent public education system, must restore its commitment to developing the workforce of the future. It’s time to put Kansas back on track by restoring funding for higher education, making targeted investments to bring and keep the best research faculty and students on our Kansas campuses, and incentivizing a skilled and highly trained workforce to build their careers here in our state.

I look forward to working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to tackle common-sense issues like expanding Medicaid, fully funding our K-12 public schools, and lowering the sales tax on food, while also avoiding the imminent cliff our higher education system is barreling toward if we choose to do nothing to reverse the decade of devastation our educational institutions have endured.