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Ty Masterson: Honest dialogue needed on higher-ed funding

  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee are embarking on an important two-week tour to the major Kansas Board of Regents’ institutions throughout Kansas.

Due to a variety of factors – including the number of new budget committee members created by redistricting, budget cuts and the changing landscape of higher education – the necessity for an honest and open dialogue between the people’s representatives and the institutions of higher learning is both imperative and urgent.

Among the many questions at the core of such a tour is the fundamental one: What is the true role of the Kansas taxpayer (you) in higher education funding? Given the variety of funding streams available to universities and colleges today (federal grants, athletics, foundations and gifts, tuition increases, fees, etc.), how can we ensure that the taxpayers’ dollars are being appropriated efficiently and effectively and achieving excellent results with the best possible value for students, parents and taxpayers?

Appropriations committee members are genuinely interested in the unique mission of each institution of higher learning in Kansas as well as the innovative research conducted, credit hours completed, graduation rates, retention of Kansas’ best and brightest, alarming rates of growing student debt, and defining the taxpayers’ return on investment to make certain that public dollars are incentivizing results that are producing globally competitive graduates in every field.

The Legislature must also carefully and fairly balance the state’s responsibility to provide for public safety, infrastructure, K-12 education, care for seniors and the most vulnerable, and other constitutional responsibilities along with higher education. Given the fact that taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are not an endless source of cash, your elected, part-time legislators must listen, evaluate, prioritize and ultimately make decisions about what percentage of a limited budget pie should be spent on each public sector and on components of each sector.

Committee members are hopeful that this tour will provide the opportunity for elected officials and university officials to inquire intelligently, communicate candidly, and begin a creative and respectful conversation that will result in productive outcomes for all Kansans.

Ty Masterson, a Republican state senator from Andover, chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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