Gov. Sam Brownback made his way around most of the state’s regents universities on Monday, playing like a mid-April Santa Claus, with gifts for each institution. Those gifts were “targeted enhancements” at each institution that were passed in the state Legislature that Brownback intends to make law. At Pittsburg State, that includes $1 million directed toward the Center for Career and Technical Education Teacher Development and Innovation Center. “ We’re seeing this phenomenal growth in the state of Kansas since the state stepped up and said we would pay for all technical education while a student is in high school. So that enrollment increase has taken place. And now we need more teachers. We need more teachers to teach technical education. And generally, you get somebody that is already technically competent and qualified and give them teacher training. And that’s what Pittsburg State does with this statewide mandate and this program will help enhance,” Brownback said at a press conference Monday. The governor was referring to the early results of a $20 million state program to pay for technical training and help students earn technical certifications. Pittsburg State President Steve Scott said the $1 million boost represents a 3 percent increase in state funding for the university. Further, he said the funding will help the school double the number of students (roughly 30 now) in the years and months ahead. “We have a lot of people who are highly technically trained, but don’t know about building objectives...,” Scott said. “It’s a just-in-time effort, and it’s something we’re excited about.” The governor said that Pittsburg State will play a key role in preparing the teachers for community colleges and hands-on programs across the state. “They’re going to get it done. It’s going to be key for our future. And I’m delighted to be here as part of announcing this. And the future of Kansas, projections are that to get jobs in the future in the country, but in particular our state, 60 percent of those jobs require some technical certification,” he said. Brownback also noted some of the other items he deemed as successes in the 2015 fiscal budget, such as the restoration of caps on salaries in higher education. He also praised the Legislature and the Kansas Board of Regents for their efforts in funding higher education: “Investment in higher education is critical in Kansas,” he said. “We need well-trained students getting out in the work force and being able to earn a living for themselves and their family for the future. That’s what higher education does for the state of Kansas.”
Brownback also took a handful of questions from the media on Monday, and the questions ranged from specifics about his technical education initiative to gaming. First, he was asked if Kansas is catching up to other states on technical education, or if it is setting the standard. “We are one of the leading [states] in America on technical education. In fact, the innovation of the state, where the state stepped up and paid for 100 percent of technical education in high school, that received from a national group one of the innovative programs or top 10 innovative programs of the year. I think that was Brookings Institute that decided. We’re really the envy of a lot of states on technical education. Now, we’ve got to get a lot more people trained to teach technical education. And it involves usually a different set of individuals. And it’s been people that’ve been technically practicing in the field in their competency, and then getting them up into educational standards. That’s what this is going to do,” he said. Another reporter asked which issues, besides education, have the governor’s focus and attention. “Highways. 69 Highway. Since I’ve been in office, I’ve committed to making it four-lane. Some of the key things the state does, education, that’s where we spend most of our resources. We probably spend, well, we’re spending way over 60 percent, close to 2/3 of our resources on education. Most is on K-12. About 52 percent of our state budget’s in K-12. The other piece is infrastructure. Highways. We’re regularly [in the] top five highways in America, or one of the top five, and one of the keys is we think 69 needs to be four-lane. We’ll have some bid letting on that later this summer on additional pieces for 69. So you’ll see some structure work soon on furthering that four-lane on 69,” he said. Brownback was also asked his thoughts on gaming in Southeast Kansas, particularly in light of the legislation that awaits his signature to lower the requirements for a casino in the Southeast Gaming Zone. “I just received, I think today the bill that Sen. LaTurner led the effort on reducing the amount of money upfront to establish a facility in Southeast Kansas. Three are established in the state, and there was supposed to be a fourth in the initial protocol. And the size of this one was apparently prohibitive to the marketplace. I’ll be reviewing that bill early and we’re still in that process of looking that over. Your local state senator, Jake LaTurner, did an outstanding job on moving that process on through the state senate. And your local state rep. did a great job moving that through the House. We’ll be coming out with a statement on that shortly,” he said. Finally, Brownback said that he is “fully occupied” when asked about plans to run for president.