Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Too Little, Too Late

The state legislature has not seen fit to fix the festering problems with Kentucky's tax structure and there are no encouraging signs that legislative help is on the way. In a climate of scarce resources the underfunding of essential services to the citizens of Kentucky is a given. The question is: Which of our problems get financial help?  ...and at the expense of which programs?  ...and why?

When the folks in the K-12 world announced last year that they were going to put on a full-court press in an effort to get education funding restored to 2008 levels most folks I talked to shrugged it off. 'They can ask, like everyone else, but there isn't any money, so why go through the motions?'

The answer is now clear.

The coming together of various education groups under the name of the Kentucky Education Action Team (KEAT) rallied support for public schools, arguably at the expense of higher education, the courts, and a lot of other things. Following the Bob Sexton playbook, every interested Ed group from students to retired teachers took on their piece of the effort, contacted their legislators directly, and babysat the governor as he crafted his budget. That is not to suggest that Governor Steve Beshear required much encouragement. His past efforts to protect public education from budget cuts are documented. But make no mistake: This was a well-choreographed effort that attracted press attention and sought broad-based support from parents and politicians alike. The group that, once again, pulled together these education and business groups and spurred them into action was the Prichard Committee. Stu Silberman watchers should note that he adopted Sexton's approach without any discernible hiccup. I suspect Cindy Heine influence's as the keeper of Sexton's teachings has been considerable. Regardless, the Prichard Committee continues to teach observers how to create a broad-based coalition around a key public policy interest. At the same time, the Council for Better Education let it be known that another lawsuit challenging the legislature was not out of the question - and this time, plaintiffs would have the Rose case behind them.

Today, well into the legislative session, university faculty senate chairs around Kentucky received a letter from CPE Faculty Representative Robert Staat encouraging a faculty uprising of some sort.

UofL's Robert Staat
"I am reaching out to you, the chairs of our faculty senates, to help us educate faculty members and staff about the negative impact of these proposed budget cuts and to advocate for a reinvestment in higher education by the Governor and members of the General Assembly," Staat wrote.

To help inform the faculty, Staat "enclosed some recent CPE presentations to the Governor and the House Appropriations and Revenue Subcommittee that further detail the budgetary pressures facing higher education in Kentucky." 

The information is important. The problems facing higher education are real. But the approach is all wrong, and stands little to no chance of success. It would seem that higher education has much to learn from K-12 when it comes to policy advocacy.

The Need to Reinvest in Kentucky Postsecondary Education

This from Dr. Robert Staat, Faculty Representative, CPE:
On January 21, Governor Beshear unveiled his proposed budget for the Commonwealth of Kentucky for 2014-16. While it restores many of the cuts made to K-12 education over the last six years and includes new funding for postsecondary research and buildings, the operating budgets of the public colleges and universities would be reduced 2.5 percent in each year of the biennium under this plan.

On February 14, The Council on Postsecondary Education unanimously passed a resolution urging the Governor to restore reductions in postsecondary operating budgets, including full funding of the Kentucky Employee Retirement Systems rate increase.  This comes on the heels of a January 17th op-ed urging Kentucky to renew its financial commitment to higher education funding, which was signed by the presidents and board chairs of CPE, KCTCS, and each of Kentucky’s public universities.  (The resolution and joint op-ed are attached.)  This op-ed includes some stark facts that put Kentucky’s higher education funding challenge in perspective:

                    Since the start of the recession in 2008, state funding per student (adjusted for inflation) at our public colleges and universities has declined over 30 percent.
                    State support for our public colleges and universities, in inflation-adjusted dollars, is lower today than it was nearly two decades ago in 1997 (coincidentally the same year Kentucky passed the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act, which promised a significant and sustained investment in our postsecondary system).  This, despite educating nearly 20 percent more students.
                    In 1999, 67 percent of higher education support came from public resources, while the rest came from students and their families. Today, those percentages have flipped, with the state now picking up only 38% of the cost of public postsecondary education. This is the principal cause of increasing tuition levels.
                    Financial aid resources for our neediest students are increasingly inadequate. Last year alone, 96,000 students who qualified for need-based aid went without due to lack of funds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think we should consider why the budget is willing to sink significant dollars in to capital projects on campuses but not the folks who are suppose to be working in those facilities.

I like Dr. Benson and we all new that the second face of the science building was next priority, but destroying case in order to spend money on a parking structure right in the middle of campus? Upgrades in athletic facilities? Tearing down Combs and Tennis courts in order to create a more welcoming entry point across from apartment new apartment complex? Who care if the campus looks attractive if you can't afford to adequately pay support staff and instructors. You can't spend money on making Athletics a D1 Johnny-come-lately but run academics on a DIII shoe string budget.