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Kan. regents expect to seek reversal of cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The incoming chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents predicted Thursday that it will press legislators next year to undo higher education cuts enacted this year.

The reductions total $44 million over the next two fiscal years, beginning in July. For each year, state funding for public universities, community colleges and technical colleges is almost 3 percent lower than current state funding, with the bulk of the reductions coming from the universities' budgets.

Like other regents, Fred Logan, who takes over as board chairman in July, argues that the cuts will hinder efforts to improve the higher education system and train additional doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals. During a board meeting, Logan said the regents will have a hearing on budget issues next month and submit proposals to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in September.

"It's hard for me to see that the board would not ask for a complete restoration of all cuts that have been made," said Logan, of Leawood. "I would anticipate that, that would be at the center of our budget requests for next year."

The Republican-dominated Legislature approved cuts in state funding for higher education even though Brownback sought to keep it flat over the next two fiscal years.

The regents on Wednesday approved tuition increases for this fall proposed by the universities and made a point of calculating that the bulk of the increases would offset reductions in state funds. The increases will range from 3 percent to 8.8 percent at the universities and are expected to raise an additional $34 million during the next fiscal year.

Logan is a former Kansas Republican Party chairman, and his interest in pushing to reverse this year's cuts has solid support among the regents. Regent Ed McKechnie, a former Democratic legislator from Arcadia, said he believes many legislators already have "buyer's remorse."

"I think those cuts should be restored and that we ought to reimburse that portion of the (tuition) increase back to the students," McKechnie said. "I didn't want to increase tuition like we did. It's too high -- it's too much -- but we're left with no other choice."

Some conservative Republican legislators also have questioned whether the universities are operating efficiently and see the reductions as a way to force them to look for savings.

Sen. Ty Masterson, a conservative Andover Republican and chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he was disappointed with the tuition increases and that the regents should look for ways to reduce spending on their own.

And Rep. Scott Schwab, a conservative Olathe Republican, said the regents are "programmed" to seek increases in spending and, "If we don't get it, we've got to cry."

"I think the regents system's fine," Schwab said. "I don't understand why they're crying that much, except for maybe they feel like they have to, or else they won't get their money in the future."