Proposed postsecondary education cuts, performance-based funding discussed in House budget review committee

02/04/2016 06:23 PM

FRANKFORT — Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget proposal faced another round of legislative scrutiny on Thursday as lawmakers on the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education questioned cuts in higher education and the administration’s plan to devote a third of postsecondary dollars to performance-based funding.

Lawmakers on the panel zeroed in on a few proposals in Bevin’s postsecondary education budget, namely his proposed 4.5 percent cuts in the current fiscal year and his plan to make a third of state university funding available based on performance.

Budget officials presented some specifics, but State Budget Director John Chilton said some information likely will not be available by the April 15 budget deadline.

That came in response to a question from Rep. Jim DeCesare on the budget timeline.

“This is typically the part of the session where we get into the nuts and bolts of the budget, and while the budget is, I understand the reasoning for having an austere budget as the governor said, it’s missing a lot of the details,” said DeCesare, R-Bowling Green.

Chilton said the details on proposed higher education cuts, which include a 9 percent spending reduction in the upcoming biennium, will be worked out among the governor, lawmakers and affected parties.

“We’re developing some of those details and the framework, and we’ll let you know as things develop,” he said.

Rep. Arnold Simpson, chairman of the budget review subcommittee, said lawmakers that have served since the recession have been “forced to approve cuts after cuts after cuts,” and every dollar cut from postsecondary education is typically made up through a 70-cent increase in tuition.

“This 70 cents that we talk about, it really represents millions of dollars, and for many of us we can afford that,” said Simpson, D-Covington. “But for hard-working Kentuckians and some middle-income Kentuckians and low-income Kentuckians, it’s particularly daunting.”

But Chilton said Bevin is taking a thirty-month view of the budget, with finding money for the state’s beleaguered pension systems a top priority.

“There is pain right now,” Chilton said. “The primary concern, however, is a long-term view trying to maintain the government funding while at the same time addressing the funding issue on the pensions.”

Simpson also expressed his concerns with Bevin’s performance-based funding model, saying that should be studied further before moving ahead.

He noted that a performance-based funding method has been drafted by the Council on Postsecondary Education based on a consensus from university presidents, but that only relates to new money.

He’s unsure how that provision will fare in the House’s version of the biennial budget, calling the proposal “somewhat of a radical departure.”

“Funding the universities, that’s one of our primary purposes as members of the General Assembly,” Simpson said. “We have to be a part of that.”

“I don’t know if we should rapidly approach this most important component,” he continued. “I think we need to, and I hate to say this because my friends back home, they always claim that when government is challenged with a problem, we always want to study and study and study, but sometimes to thoughtful and the appropriate approach, as you alluded, is to study and get input from all quarters.”

Rep. Derrick Graham said as the state looks to enact performance-based funding, officials shouldn’t lose sight of needs-based funding so all Kentuckians, no matter their socioeconomic status.

“If we cut off the opportunity of kids who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, kids who are smart and bright and have every opportunity to succeed but cannot because affordability crushes their dreams, then we are not doing what we should do as a commonwealth to make that Kentucky dream, that American dream possible,” said Graham, D-Frankfort.

Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner acknowledged that more can be done to help all Kentuckians better themselves educationally.

Still, Heiner said he shared Graham’s goal, noting earlier that proceeds from the Kentucky Lottery fund will be fully dedicated to educational priorities and not used for other purposes.

“We do have huge gaps in funding systems in Kentucky, leaving a lot of students out and a lot of families out,” Heiner said. “… This is such a critical time, both for Kentuckians and, quite frankly, our economy. We cannot waste any human capital in this state.”

Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, was perhaps the most critical of Bevin’s budget, saying he sees nothing in the spending proposal that shows an investment in young Kentuckians.

“We’ve been cut,” he said. “We’re bleeding. Our higher education system is bleeding, and under this proposed budget they’re going to be hemorrhaging.”

House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand has said he expects the House will take up its version of the two-year budget by early March.


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