While cuts to K-12 education drew fire from across the state following a long legislative weekend, representatives of institutions of higher education across Kansas breathed a sigh of relief that their organizations were not dramatically impacted this year.
"It’s a good thing they left some issues alone," said University President Steve Scott. "Our advocacy has to be not only about getting things done, but also not having some things happen."
Advocacy has been highly important this year, following a year of significant funding cuts for higher education at the Statehouse level, and Scott and Shawn Naccarato introduced a new member of their advocacy team, Riley Scott, who has been working for the university in Topeka.
"His strategic thinking and relationships are very important for us," Naccarato said.
Naccarato said currently revenue projections look good for PSU, as does the availability of funding next year.
"The most important thing that happened this weekend was that House Bill 2506 - the most important thing from our standpoint - was that our funding was included in that bill," Naccarato said.
He said a total of $32.3 million was budgeted in new or "restored" dollars for higher education, with 50 percent of cut funding restored for 2014 and 100 percent for 2015, however, he said the institutions that were cut further will receive more, meaning that PSU will not receive any additional funding for 2014 and a $68,000 restoration in funding will basically be zeroed out.
"It’s basically a wash, and flat is good right now," Naccarato said.
He said two very positive accomplishments were the addition of $15.25 million for career technology education and $25 million in bonding authority for the KU Medical Center Health Education Building.
"It’s a win for the state too, because obviously a strong medical center is a win for the state," Naccarato noted.
He said PSU’s efforts for a CTE Teacher Innovation and Development Center also were successful in bringing an extra $1 million in funding, as the university works to teach those who will teach CTE.
Naccarato said also notable is what hasn’t happened this session.
"The only thing we had asked for that did not happen was restoration of the 1.5 percent across-the-bard cut," he said.
Pieces of legislation, including undocumented students, university tenure, modifying performance-based funding and tuition caps haven’t come to fruition.
"That’s not by accident," Naccarato said. "That is part of our advocacy effort that is as much to keep things off the table as to get things on."
Riley Scott said this is particularly challenging with more than 50 legislators still in their first term.
"Frankly, that’s one way to get a lot of bad legislation passed, is to get people who don’t know the system," he said.
Naccarato said university efforts, including bringing legislators to campus, helped.
"One of the things that has helped us keep some of the things off the radar was the bus tour," he said. "I think that went a long way in educating these legislators to take a step back on some of these issues."
Naccarato said a couple of issues could still creep back in during the veto session, which begins April 30, but that the bulk of higher education legislation should be done.
"My guess at this point is anything related to higher education is hopefully over at this time."
Steve Scott then spoke and noted that the situation like last year was similar to backing a car out of the garage, with the need to stop backing up, idle for a moment and then to shift into drive.
He said last year situations were in reverse for higher education.
"Almost daily we felt like we were losing ground," Scott said, adding that this was in respect and understanding as well as funding.
"There’s no doubt in my mind that we brought that to a stop, the car is in idle and now you can put it forward."
He said in idle the school has received a 3 percent increase to its block grant, but that it is all in one area - CTE, similar to recent gains in nursing, construction and polymer chemistry.
He also said that if the university’s block grants had followed Consumer Price Index trends they would total $42 million, rather than the current $34-$35 million that they are.
"We’ve got a lot of work to continue to advocate for where do we go next," Scott said, adding that he and his advocacy team have worked all the way to St. Francis in the northwest corner of Kansas.
"We worked hard at it and we had good outcomes from it," he said.
He said the broad results of the work, including advocacy, the CTE proposal and more, are that Pittsburg State University’s input is being sought by policy makers.
"I think that’s something that is going to pay us dividends years down the road.
Scott reminded those attending that this year is an election year and that financial pressures will be present next year.
He advocated being an informed voter, asking tough questions and attending forums as the elections draw near.
And Scott, Naccarato and Scott will continue to do what they’ve been doing.
"We’re going to do what we always do," Steve Scott said. "We’re going to advocate and work hard."