Unnecessary cuts in Regents funds force tuition up

Tuition will increase in the six state universities because the Legislature cut higher education 10 percent, or $17 million, due to the recession.
The consequence will be to shift part of the burden of paying for higher education in Kansas from the population in general to university students and their families.
As the cost of a college education rises, fewer will be able to afford it. Those who do not continue their education because of higher costs will earn less throughout their lifetimes — and will pay less in taxes to the communities in which they live, their state and the nation. The cut in funding was penny-wise, pound-foolish.
More important, the youngsters denied a higher education in our knowledge-based society will live less satisfying lives.
The Legislature cut spending across the board, including education, because the recession reduced state income. The decision, lawmakers say, didn’t require deep thinking. When revenues fall, spending should follow. Can’t balance the budget otherwise.
That’s what families do, isn’t it?
Not always. Sometimes families find a way to keep their income up. Mom goes back to work. Junior takes an after-school job. Dad finds a part-time job that fits in with his regular work schedule. Or mom and dad decide to dip into savings so their college student can stay in school.
The Legislature had other choices, too. In 2007, the state individual income tax brought in $2,709,339,951. A surcharge of a little more than one-half of 1 percent would have produced the $17 million cut from the higher ed. With that almost invisible increase on all Kansas income taxpayers — remember, low-income families don’t pay income taxes to the federal or state governments — a tuition increase would not have been needed.
There were other choices, too. The lawmakers could have increased the upper brackets of income taxes on individuals and businesses by a fraction of a percent and raised the needed $17 million from those who could most easily afford to pay. They could have taken a careful look at the long, long list of tax exemptions granted over the years and reduced or eliminated those the state can no longer afford.
They could, in other words, have decided that, recession or no recession, it was important to keep a university education as affordable as possible for as many Kansas youngsters as possible and acted on that decision.
They chose, instead, to make college kids and their families carry a heavier load or be forced to drop out.
It was a decision that required no courage; no serious thought; no concern for the future of young Kansans or of Kansas, itself. It was not the lawmakers’ finest hour.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.