April 17, 2018 2:45PM
That was the message delivered to campus Monday during Pittsburg State’s Legislative Town Hall. Led by University President Steve Scott, Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato and Riley Scott, legislative liaison, the session provided the 100+ audience members with updates and analysis of the many issues facing the Legislature.
“Revenue collections are up this year,” said Naccarato. “Which is a welcome change from the past when we were always below estimates. We’re a little over $300 million above estimates year-to-date, which really changes the dynamic of the discussion. Revenue drives decisions, and this positive trend is good for lawmakers and for us.”
Even though revenue trends are positive, the state still finds itself facing financial challenges due, in large part, to the current school funding lawsuit filed by four public school districts. Riley Scott, legislative liaison, said the current lawsuit has roots that go back decades.
“For the last 10 terms, governors have faced a school funding lawsuit,” said Riley Scott. “The number of districts has dwindled during that time but the core question of funding adequacy has remained.”
The Kansas Supreme Court has set an April 30 deadline for lawmakers to present a funding proposal that will meet the constitutionally-required adequacy measure. Lawmakers have responded by approving a bill that increases K-12 funding by $525 million over the next five years.
“When you add the amount approved by the legislature last year,” said Naccarato, “that amount is actually $823 million over six years. It’s a significant increase, but it’s not yet clear that it will meet the court requirements.”
While the adequacy question remains in the air, the funding increase is having an impact on many other state priorities, including higher education. President Steve Scott addressed the matter by explaining how difficult it is to speak about K-12 funding from the perspective of higher education.
“It’s complicated because we take those students (K-12) into our classrooms,” said Steve Scott. “But we also prepare the teachers who go into K-12 classrooms and the leaders who go into their buildings. We rely upon one another to be successful. We agree that education should be adequately funded, but we believe that funding should also include higher education.”
Higher education in Kansas has seen its funding slashed by $24 million over the past few years as a result of the state’s financial challenges. President Scott pointed to this fact when expressing his disappointment with the current funding situation.
“It’s frustrating,” said Steve Scott. “Our state has collected nearly $600 million more in revenue this year. Higher-ed is simply asking for restoration of the $24 million, not an increase, but a restoration. Now, we’re not very positive even that will pass. We have people in our region who care about Highway 69, mental health and other social services, expanding Medicaid, and every single one is being hurt by this continued fight over school funding.”
The continued cuts to higher-ed funding have reduced state investment in Pittsburg State to the same level it was in 2006. The stagnant funding, increasing costs and national downward trend in enrollment have the university searching for additional ways to cut costs.
“There are many factors in play right now,” said Steve Scott. “Some numbers, such as fall enrollment and housing demand are becoming clearer while others, such as the state allocation are not. We’re facing enormous financial pressures and will have to make some difficult decisions in the coming weeks.”
While external pressures are mounting, President Scott made it clear there are many factors campus does control that will help the university overcome its current challenges. The primary factors being recruitment and retention.
“We can control how we respond to our students,” said Steve Scott. “How we treat them, what our curriculum looks like, how our campus looks. There are so many things we can do and all of them impact enrollment. Students are why we are here. Supporting them is what we do best.”
A recording of Monday’s Town Hall is available online at www.pittstate.tv and on Pittsburg State’s official YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/pittsburgstate.