Friday, December 13, 2002

NKU, others brace for cutback

Result of state's revenue shortfall could be double-digit tuition hikes

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kentucky's "education governor" said Thursday he doesn't want to cut education. But if he does, it's clear it will affect some local college students.

Tuition at Northern Kentucky University could increase in double digits if the cuts are as deep as Gov. Paul Patton has indicated, school officials said Thursday after a Frankfort press conference on education and the state's $500 million budget deficit.

"That (double-digit tuition increase) is a very strong possibility," said Gerald Hunter, vice president for enrollment and financial planning at NKU.

NKU is just one of the educational agencies that is busy doing the math on the cuts that Mr. Patton presaged Thursday afternoon in Frankfort

Mr. Patton and a parade of educators, with a crowd of students as a backdrop, began pointing out the difficult choices between tax increases or dramatic cuts in school funding.

"I'm not recommending either one at this point," said Mr. Patton, who has campaigned as Kentucky's "education governor." He has instituted such programs as "Bucks for Brains" to recruit high-quality researchers to universities and "Education Pays" to encourage students toward post-secondary schooling.

School superintendents, university presidents, adult educators and financial aid specialists in Frankfort had grim predictions if more money isn't found.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said the state could lose as many as 1,800 elementary and high school teaching positions.

It would mean $4 million less for the popular program that rewards good grades for high school students with tuition assistance, said Joe McCormick, executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

Mr. Patton said the state has emptied the cupboard in dealing with revenue shortfalls that totaled more than $800 million in the past two years.

That will mean another $144 million less than expected this fiscal year and $365 million next year. Because education consumes so much of the state budget, that could mean $77 million less for schools this year and $159 million less than promised next year.

Public school administrators and university leaders trooped to the microphone at a Frankfort school auditorium to praise the progress in education in the past decade and warn it would end or even go into reverse without continuing state help.

None of the speakers uttered the "tax" word without prompting.

"I'm not talking the solutions. I'm talking the problems right now," Mr. Patton said.

The solutions, he said, will fall to the General Assembly, which failed to pass a budget for anyone but itself during two tries earlier this year.

Those solutions, as legislators have argued throughout the year, could include legalizing casino gambling in Kentucky or raising the tax on cigarettes, which at three cents a pack is the second lowest in nation.

The 2003 session starts on Jan. 7 and Mr. Patton indicated he does not intend to lay out a financing or budget plan early in the session.

"There's nobody wants to raise taxes," Mr. Patton said. "The legislature is going to do what they think the people want done."

It's up to the educators, Mr. Patton said, to let people know what it will mean for them and the state if education is cut.

Historically, Mr. Hunter said, NKU has been the most underfunded of the public institutions in the commonwealth.

"We're $26 million underfunded in appropriations," he said. "The budget is already tight. It's amazing that this university is able to do what we have done."

Enrollment this fall was up 10 percent over the same time last year, he said.

"Access for students is important," Mr. Hunter said.


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