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Report: Community colleges hope for continued funding from Topeka
Waymaster, Blew have key roles
Heather Morgan
Heather Morgan

Kansas community colleges received the full amount of promised state funding for technical education for the first time in 2022, according to Heather Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees. Morgan attended the Barton Community College Board of Trustees study session on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and reported on the KACCT’s legislative agenda and other issues for the coming year.

There will be winners and losers in any attempt to create a fair funding formula moving forward. Historically, for the last decade, Barton was one of the schools that was underfunded until last year, Morgan said. “You received a pretty significant bump.”

Not surprisingly, KACCT’s legislative agenda for 2023 supports full funding and re-centering of the formula.

The association also supports local control, with no unfunded mandates coming from Topeka.

Morgan reported what was then breaking news – that Gov. Laura Kelly has COVID-19 – which means her State of the State address will be delayed. However, the proposed budget was still scheduled to be released on Thursday. Meanwhile, she said Republican leadership in Topeka have already announced some goals for workforce education that will directly affect community colleges. Legislators are most interested in education that will lead to high-paying careers or fill career vacancies where more people are needed. Funding is also being requested to help colleges enhance their cyber-security.

FHSU affiliation with technical colleges

Morgan had additional “breaking news” Tuesday, as Fort Hays State University announced its intention to become affiliated with North Central Kansas Technical College in Beloit and Hays and Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland. The Kansas Board of Regents will vote on this on Jan. 18 and then a bill must be introduced in the Legislature.

This will affect other community colleges, because it goes back to the goal that all are funded fairly.

When asked if this proposed action is a merger, Morgan answered, “They prefer the word ‘affiliation’ over ‘merger.’” However, students of the technical colleges would be considered FHSU students under this proposal.

“We’re all scrambling,” she said of the reaction to the news. “This is certainly something we’ll be watching in the days ahead.”

Trustees expressed surprise that this decision was made without public input. Since FHSU and the technical colleges don’t receive direct funding from local property taxes the way a community college such as Barton does, public input was not required. However, Morgan agreed this may create some hard feelings.

Recession coming?

Board Chairman Mike Johnson noted that last year was a record for state funding of community colleges. Will that trend continue?

“The Legislative Research Department was trying to caution that perhaps if (sales tax revenue) numbers do not continue to be where we think they need to be, we may be in the beginning of a recession,” Morgan said. 

“The governor has not been quiet about her desire to further eliminate the sale of food taxes immediately. There are people who would like to totally eliminate taxes on Social Security income. The bottom line is any tax plan will be multifaceted and everyone needs to move with extreme caution. 

“We did learn something from the Brownback tax plan – that if we move too quickly, we can crash revenues rather expediently, and that causes harm for all the things that we use tax revenue for,” she said.

Commenting on local representation in the Legislature’s leadership this year, Morgan noted that most of the key leaders are not from western Kansas.

“It’s very much urban focused,” she said. “We’re very blessed that Troy Waymaster of Bunker Hill is on the House appropriations chairman.” Also, Rep. Tory Blew  from Great Bend, is vice chair of the higher education committee.

Headed to Topeka

Johnson said he, along with fellow trustee Gary Burke and Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman, plan to attend the legislative coffee Jan. 18 in Topeka, where they will meet with area legislators. Other BCC trustees may also attend.