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OSU prof says Kasich’s budget proposal could’ve been worse

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Higher education appears to have dodged the ax Gov. John Kasich swung Tuesday when he released his much anticipated “Jobs Budget” proposal.

The two-year budget closes a nearly $8 billion hole, largely by slashing funding to local governments and school districts, selling five correctional facilities, leasing the state liquor agency and reducing Medicaid.

In addition to capping in-state tuition increases at 3.5 percent annually, the budget proposes a $39.5 million, or 1.1 percent increase in state-based higher education funding for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1. State-based funding would rise by 3.7 percent, or $85 million, from 2012 to 2013.

However, the loss of $342.8 million in one-time federal stimulus money negates those gains, which leads to a 10.5 percent, or $303.3 million decrease in overall higher education funding.

Currently, the state’s higher education budget is about $2.56 billion. In 2012, under the proposal, that number would decrease to $2.3 billion, and would rise to $2.38 billion in 2013.

Despite the net loss, university presidents said they were initially pleased with what they saw.

“My overarching impression is the governor has affirmed that higher education remains a priority and appreciates that sustained investment in education, creativity and innovation directly fuels economic growth,” said Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee in a statement Tuesday.

University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams said he was “appreciative” that Kasich spared universities from cuts in state aid.

“In that spirit, the governor’s proposal shows an understanding that colleges and universities play a key role in Ohio’s future well-being. If we want our state to move forward and grow, higher education must remain accessible to as many Ohioans as possible,” Williams said in his Tuesday statement.

Leonard Baird, professor of higher education and student affairs at OSU, said the cuts weren’t as drastic as they could have been.

“It’s much worse in other states,” Baird said. “In Kentucky, I don’t think they’ve given a raise to teachers in 5 years.”

In much of the Midwest, governors are coming down on higher education. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal calls for $150 million in cuts to state schools, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget would slash funding in half, by $625 million. The budget proposal in Indiana would keep the 2010-2011 levels, which were themselves a $150 million cut.

Gee acknowledged OSU is in a relatively good – but not great – position.

“As we all know from colleagues in other states across the country, Ohio’s support for public higher education is comparatively quite solid,” Gee said.

He said the university will still have to make tough decisions in the wake of the cuts.

“But those choices will increase our momentum and strengthen us in lasting ways,” he said.

Gee did express some concern with provisions on “graduation requirements and faculty workload.”

University spokesman Jim Lynch declined to elaborate on Gee’s concerns.

There are provisions in the budget that would require professors to teach an additional course every two years, and would base some funding on what the budget calls “student outcomes.”

“We will be talking with our state leaders to address these issues,” Gee said.

Dean of Indiana University’s School of Education Gerardo Gonzalez said performance-based funding, if narrowly implemented, can unfairly hurt certain institutions. Community colleges, he said, are left out in an Indiana provision that bases funding on the amount of research a university generates.

“I don’t think we should be rushing into performance-based indicators before we really consider the missions of those universities,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said measures to increase teacher workload could hinder their research ability and weaken the school’s ability to recruit talented faculty who wish to conduct research.

“Research universities like OSU, Indiana and Purdue want to be competitive not just in the classroom but in our ability to conduct research, create innovation and spur economic development,” Gonzalez said. “The key is to create a work environment those types of faculty can find supportive.”

The Ohio House of Representatives and the Senate must vote on a final budget proposal by June 30, the last day of FY 2011. Baird said that budget could be very different from the governor’s proposal.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all of the right programs come through ok,” Baird said.  

 

Kyle Knox contributed to this story.

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