DES MOINES — After taking back $20.8 million in state appropriations from the Board of Regents in the 2017 budget year and then nearly $10 million for the 2018 budget year that started July 1, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday recommended cutting the regents’ current budget by another $5.13 million.

That reduction would bring state support for the Board of Regents, which governs Iowa’s three public universities and two special schools, from $565.4 million in the 2018 budget year to $560.2 million, according to a legislative analysis.

The cuts, which are only recommendations and must be approved by lawmakers, come in response to a state budget shortfall of about $35 million.

At the start of the 2017 budget year, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa collectively were allotted $513.7 million in general education appropriations. Cuts during the last session, combined with Reynolds' proposed cuts Tuesday, would reduce that to nearly $479 million.

For the 2019 budget year, the governor has proposed a Board of Regents funding increase of $7.3 million — below the board’s $12 million request.

If lawmakers take Reynolds’ suggestions, total regents funding would increase $2.4 million above the original fiscal 2018 base funding total.

The regents aim to hold UNI and its two special schools harmless for the budget reduction, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.

The governor’s proposal suggests taking $2.4 million from UI’s general education fund and $1.9 million from ISU’s general education fund — with smaller decreases coming in other areas, like UI’s Oakdale campus and Iowa State’s agricultural experiment station.

“Any reduction is challenging, but the board recognizes the current fiscal situation the state is facing,” Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun said in a statement. “We will work with our institutions to make any required FY18 reductions in ways that have as little impact on students as possible."

Reynolds also proposed cutting Iowa’s community college funding by $1.8 million in the current 2018 budget year. When combined with a proposed $3 million increase for 2019, the state’s 15 community colleges could look to split a net $1.2 million increase.

With lawmakers now slated to review the budget recommendations and make decisions, state Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said proposed “increases for public education are so inadequate.”

“That’s going to be a real challenge,” she said. “More cuts in education results in more tuition for our higher ed students, who are in community colleges and our regent schools. To me, that’s a non-starter.”

The University of Iowa and Iowa State have proposed five years of 7 percent annual tuition increases for resident undergraduates if lawmakers don’t increase funding. UNI has proposed an annualized increase of 5 percent for that same group of students under those same conditions.

It’s unclear what a small increase might mean for the tuition-increase requests.

Some regents, lawmakers and students have criticized the proposed rate hikes as too steep, and the Board of Regents has postponed its decision on tuition — which typically happens almost a year before the new academic year — until June, which likely will come after lawmakers have approved appropriations.

State Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, expressed concern for the higher education cuts and minimal increases.

“We’re slowly strangling the public universities, the community colleges, and K-12,” he said.

But during a briefing last week, Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, expressed doubt about the universities’ need for more money.

“I find it interesting that the legislature continues to take a lot of pressure, that we’re the ones to blame and solely blamed for increases in tuition, when you see here that state government employees over the last several years decreased by 8.29 percent while the regents have had a 26 percent increase in employees while they only had a 12 percent enrollment growth,” Grassley said. “So I just want to be clear on that, that some of this is also decisions that the regents have made at their level as well.”

Colin Tadlock, communications director for the Iowa House Republicans, said the regents have hired more than 7,000 new full-time employees since 2011.

Josh Lehman, spokesman for the Iowa Board of Regents, said of the 7,211 new employees, only 1,454 are funded by general education funds from the state.

“This is a 14 percent increase in full-time-equivalent employees, which correspond to the 13 percent increase in student enrollment” from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2017, he said.

The remainder of the growth in new employees in that time span, he said, comes from:

  • 2,141 employees as the result of patient growth at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, a 30 percent increase. UIHC is self-funded and receives no state appropriation or tuition revenue.
  • About 3,600 full-time-equivalent employees reflect hiring in grant-funded research labs and self-funded athletics, utilities and residence hall programs. Those programs, he said, receive no state appropriations or tuition funding and reflect the addition of four new residence halls at the universities since 2011.

He also noted the three state universities employed approximately 21,600 students in fiscal year 2017 — 15 percent more than in fiscal 2011, “which also correlates to the enrollment growth” in those years.

University presidents previously have told lawmakers that enrollment increases paired with state funding cuts and frozen tuition rates — making them the cheapest among their peers — have stretched faculty too thin with too little compensation, leaving the institutions unable to compete for top professors and researchers and threatening the quality of the education they provide.

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