FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s public colleges and universities would have to compete against each other for shrinking state tax dollars under a bill that cleared the state Senate on Wednesday.
State taxpayers give more than $1 billion each year to Kentucky’s public colleges and universities. Senate bill 153 would divide up that money based on a new formula designed to reward institutions for granting more degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Other criteria include the number of degrees awarded to low-income and minority students, total enrollment and campus size.
The formula would only apply to 5 percent of state funding next year. But after that, all state funding would be awarded based on the new formula. But any budget cuts would be gradually phased in over the next four years. No college or university would lose money in 2018, and cuts would be limited to 1 percent and 2 percent in 2019 and 2020. Those protections would disappear in 2021.
“As we invest $1.16 billion annually in these institutions, can’t we invest in more wisely and skillfully to promote student success,” said Sen. David Givens, who sponsored the bill.
The bill cleared the state Senate by a vote of 36-1, with Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon casing the lone dissenting vote. Some Democrats worried the bill, with its focus on awarding degrees, would hurt smaller universities that serve the state’s rural populations. Senate minority leader Ray Jones said the real issue is the decreasing state funding for higher education.
“Unless this general assembly is willing to put more money into postsecondary education as we go forward, the cost of a college degree will only continue to increase for tens of thousands of Kentucky students who want to better their lives,” Jones said.
But Republicans leaders said not to expect more money, noting the state’s public pension debt will likely consume most of the state’s resources for years to come.
“Until this bill passes, we just hand the universities that money with no accountability,” said Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, who identified himself as a “tuition paying parent.”
The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives.