Higher Education

Kentucky leads in higher education funding cuts following judge’s ruling



Despite an attempted intervention by the state’s district attorney, a judge has decided that Kentucky colleges and universities must comply with a gubernatorial order to cut their budgets.


As The Associated Press reported, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear brought suit against Gov. Matt Bevin after the governor issued a 4.5 percent spending cut, or around $41 million, for public higher education in the current fiscal year, which runs until July 1. Beshear called the cuts an “unconstitutional and illegal order” that was done without the approval of the state legislature.


However, as The Washington Post reported, Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that two state laws grant Bevin the authority to act unilaterally in reducing allotments to public college and universities. Wingate decided that though the legislature has the power to appropriate money, Bevin’s action did not change the amount the schools received – it just ordered them not to spend it.


“The Court simply cannot endorse the position advanced by the Attorney General and the Intervening State Representatives that all appropriated funds must be spent,” Wingate wrote in his decision. “This position is both an irresponsible one and an unsustainable one for a government to take.”


“Following the judge’s ruling, Northern Kentucky University announced 105 layoffs.”

Following the judge’s ruling, Northern Kentucky University announced 105 layoffs, including 35 faculty positions. The university said the job cuts were necessary due to rising pension costs, lowered enrollment and the governor’s cuts.


Bevin has said these cuts are part of a plan to eliminate $650 million from the state’s budget in order to pay down the state’s public pension debt, which is around $30 billion. The state legislature had approved cuts to higher education in the next budget cycle but had rejected cuts for the current fiscal year.


The state Senate and House approved a 4.5 percent cut to public colleges and universities for the next budget cycle. Bevin has also issued letters to some independent state agencies ordering them to institute 4.5 percent spending reductions in their current budgets. According to the Post, Beshear said he considers this action to be illegal and will continue to take action against the cuts.


“[The cuts] are based on a false premise that a law can mandate something that it doesn’t say,” Beshear told reporters.


Kentucky slips in education funding
Meanwhile, a national report from the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities found Kentucky among the states with the biggest cuts to higher education funding. The CBPP reported that since the recession, per-student funding in the state is down more than 30 percent. Along with Arkansas and Vermont, Kentucky is one of only three states that has cut per-student higher education funding for two consecutive years.


As Kentucky Public News Service reported, nearly every state in the country made cuts to public education following the recession. However, while the national average was a 17 percent funding reduction, Kentucky is spending 32 percent less on public college and universities than it did in 2008. Additionally, the CBPP found while other states are reinvesting in education as their economies recover, Kentucky is not.


“Nearly every state in the country has made cuts to public education following the recession.”

Speaking with KPNS, Michael Mitchell, one of the authors of the CBPP report, said Kentucky lawmakers are “going backwards” on funding higher education.


“Unfortunately for students, when it comes to tuition, when it comes to quality of schools, it puts in question whether or not those things will be there – affordability and quality – moving forward,” Mitchell told the news outlet.


When adjusted for inflation, tuition has increased by about a third in the state, which the CBPP has noted is in line with the national average. However, tuition alone does not determine the affordability of college. Speaking with KPNS, Ashley Spalding, a research and policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, noted average household incomes in Kentucky do not support higher tuition.


“We’re a poor state and our students can’t afford continued tuition increases,” Spalding said. “We have a lot of low-income Kentuckians without college degrees. Affordability should be considered in that context.”


Mitchell added that colleges and universities hoping to avoid tuition hikes are often forced to eliminate faculty and staff positions and increase classroom sizes.


“These are all things that can make navigating the college experience more complicated for students, can threaten educational quality and, ultimately, impact how many kids graduate,” Mitchell explained.


How Questica can help
As state lawmakers work to balance their fiscal year budgets, they must consider how changes to funding for state agencies can impact the lives of residents. In the case of public colleges and universities, it becomes especially critical to consider how continued funding cuts may result in higher tuition or a diminished learning experience.


With Questica’s web-based, streamlined software, lawmakers and university administrators have advanced planning tools that enable careful examination of proposed budgets. Through a platform designed to increase communication through easy sharing tools and provide access to real-time data, Questica can eliminate guesswork and inefficiency from financial planning.


With its multi-year capabilities, Questica allows for unlimited revisioning of hypothetical budgets, alongside comprehensive revenue and spending analysis. With Questica, lawmakers and school administrators alike can better prepare for changes in spending created by gubernatorial or legislative action by having predetermined plans in place.


Through the flexible Questica platform, both the public sector and higher education can improve their budget cycles and gain sophisticated reporting capabilities to match their budget needs. Contact Questica today to learn more about how your organization can benefit from this configurable and comprehensive budgeting system.