Georgia universities, exempt from Kemp cuts, seek more money

Published 9:50 am Thursday, September 12, 2019

By Jeff Amy

The Associated Press

ATLANTA — Georgia’s public universities could see overall state funding increase next year, despite guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp to trim budgets this year and next.

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The state Board of Regents voted Tuesday to recommend a $75 million increase in the system’s budget for the year that will begin next July, even while complying with Kemp’s directive from last month to cut 4% percent from certain parts of its budget in the last nine months of this budget year, as well as cut 6% from the 2021 budget that lawmakers will consider next year.

That’s because Kemp has exempted many of the state’s most expensive education and health programs from his directive. Of $27.5 billion the General Assembly appropriated this year, more than $15 billion is budgeted for education, including $10.6 billion for K-12 schools, $2.6 billion for universities and more than $1 billion for student financial aid including HOPE scholarships.

It’s unclear what Kemp or lawmakers will think of the request. A spokesman for Kemp didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Some of the biggest funding reductions proposed could come from programs that benefit rural Georgians — a core Kemp constituency — including the Cooperative Extension Service and the Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station. Vice Chancellor for Fiscal Affairs Diane Hickey told regents that the 26 campuses had suggested the cuts, some from agencies that don’t touch the system’s 328,000 students. They include about $20 million this year, of which half is a correction of an overshoot in the formula that guides spending on teaching. Another $16.5 million is proposed next year.

But those decreases are outweighed in the 2021 budget request, including $76 million driven by increasing enrollment growth through 2019. The university system is also asking for $9.7 million for health insurance increases and $4.5 million for pension payments.

For many Georgians, one key question is whether the budget for universities will result in tuition increases. Regents voted in April to increase tuition by 2.5% after not raising the sticker price at Georgia’s universities and four-year colleges in 2018.

Jen Ryan, vice chancellor for communications, said Tuesday that the budget request is the beginning of a “long process” and declined to discuss what effect it might have on tuition.

Helping to dampen tuition increases, state spending per university system student has climbed eight straight years to rebound from steep cuts, reaching $7,932 this year.

It could reach $8,130 if lawmakers approve the system’s request next year. But that would still be below the historic high of $8,257 in 2001, or the more recent high of $8,191 in 2009.

Spending per student has fallen sharply though, once adjusted for inflation. Lawmakers would have to spend more than $12,000 per student today to reach 2001’s spending levels.

The university is also asking the state to borrow $255 million to plan, construct and equip new buildings.