Budget woes must not affect higher education

Kernel Editorial

Even with the poor economy and prospective budget cuts statewide, higher education in Kentucky may not be in as dire straits as expected.

According to a Jan 21. Kernel article, Gov. Steve Beshear addressed the Kentucky General Assembly on Tuesday, proposing a series of budget cuts to save the state money. Beshear said education “must be our highest priority,” and has structured the proposed budget to affect higher education as little as possible.

What balances the budget, however. is where the situation becomes controversial — at least in the minds of those making the decisions. Beshear’s budget has $780 million received from revenue created from video lottery terminals.

Using gambling to fund higher education is nothing new. The Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship is funded by lotteries, which is something many other states have used as a model to extend funding in education. Yes, it is opportunistic to feed on people’s desire to gamble, but people will find a way to wager on anything. Some states are smart enough to figure out ways to make it a part of their operating budget.

Under the governor’s plan, UK’s state allocation would remain at $310 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, and in the 2011-2012 year Kentucky institutions would see a 2 percent cut. The reductions in 2011 will come in response to the loss of federal stimulus money with the restoration of cuts to postsecondary schools, after funding a 1 percent pay increase for teachers and state employees if another stimulus plan were to occur.

“Gaming revenue is the only practical option to begin funding long-term priorities with recurring revenue,” Beshear said.

Why not stimulate our own pockets and keep Kentucky residents from crossing state borders to throw their money into another economy?

According to a news release, without expanded gaming legislation, agencies, including secondary education, could see cuts of up to 12 percent in 2010-11 and 34 percent in 2011. Kentucky need not look further than California and its astronomical tuition increases as an example of what can happen if higher education lacks the necessary funding.

So what does this mean? Potentially, it means higher tuition, job cuts, salary freezes (again) — essentially the survival of higher education as we know it. If Kentucky continues down the path it is on, welcome signs will have transitioned from  “Where Education Pays” to “Unbridled Spirit” in 2004 to potentially “Poorest and Least Educated State” in 2010.

Beshear’s ideas may not be popular, but at the moment the alternatives don’t seem too appealing.