Editorial: Budget cut will affect quality

Dear Gov. Ernie Fletcher:

It’s hard coming into a new job. We know it’s harder for you because you’re trying to lead the effort to find $302 million to pay for expenses made in the last year. Some people can barely balance a checkbook. Balancing the state’s budget is a tough task.

But when you were elected in November, you stepped up to the challenge and promised Kentuckians that you would fix that deficit without cutting “essential government services.” But under your mandated budget cut for this fiscal year, there’s going to be yet another cut to one of the state’s most essential services – higher education.

You can’t let this happen.

We realize that you may think colleges and universities, like other agencies in state government, can handle an across-the-board budget cut by reducing office supplies and other administrative costs. But your mandated higher education budget cut of $70 million in this biennial budget will mean more than the loss of a stapler or two.

Western and other Kentucky universities have had to deal with several cuts in the last three years. Universities like Western have cut every corner they can. President Gary Ransdell has managed to cut corners but come up with money from outside sources to fund new initiatives. Western has managed to not make major cuts on its academic and student affairs programs by using extra tuition funds.

But now universities are running out of reserve funds and have reduced budgets as much as possible. This time, cutting higher education isn’t reducing administrative waste, it will cut into the quality of education. Ransdell has already announced a hiring freeze for non-faculty positions and has said some cuts are inevitable.

He and the other administrators are meeting to determine what programs will have to go. Program cuts will lead to faculty members being laid off and students being displaced from their major or minor programs.

This cut will halt the momentum of the 1997 Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act. The bill, that was passed by former Gov. Paul Patton, included initiatives that enabled more Kentuckians to receive a higher-quality college education. When the bill was passed, it received national attention with several initiatives that have improved higher education greatly.

But now in 2004, other states have implemented programs to help attract its best students to go to school in state and stay in the state. In fact, some of these programs have taken away students from our own state.

The budget is a reflection of our struggling economy. If we want Kentucky to thrive, we have to make the investment in the quality of colleges and universities. Students are leaving Kentucky in search of better quality schools out of state.

The state needs to do what it takes to attract these students to stay in Kentucky for college and whatever comes after. A good workforce of young college graduates will help attract companies to come to Kentucky and create jobs that will boost the economy – which is starting to turn around.

Those who cross the Kentucky border will see the sign. Kentucky: Where Education Pays. If higher education is cut, education won’t be investing in the state’s future. Instead, it’ll just be paying for everyone else’s bills.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 9-member board of student editors.