NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A state board recommended $63 million in new funding for Arkansas' public colleges and universities on Friday, while acknowledging that they're unlikely to receive it in next year's budget after Gov. Mike Beebe warned there was no new money for most agencies.
The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board said the request included in its recommendation would fund only 75 percent of the needs campuses say they have for the budget year that begins July 1. The panel approved the recommendation as the Legislature prepares for its fiscal session in February.
Shane Broadway, interim director of the state Department of Higher Education, said it was unlikely that the recommendations would be funded because of the economy and a tight state budget.
"Certainly, you would like that new funding, but not having a cut is still pretty good," Broadway said.
The panel approved the recommendations after Beebe told its members and a group of college officials gathered for a conference that he didn't expect new money in the state's budget next year. Beebe will release his balanced budget proposal on Jan. 17, and the state's fiscal office this week predicted that Arkansas would bring in $161 million in new revenue next year.
Beebe has said most agencies will have a relatively flat budget, but plans to propose an increase in funding for public schools. Beebe said he'd like to find more money for higher education, but noted that the campuses have not faced the cuts that universities in other states have.
"I wish I had greater news to tell you, that we had a big pot of money and that big pot of money is going to alleviate some of your problems," Beebe said. "I can't tell you that. I'm not going to lie about it. I'm going to ask you to continue to do what you're doing. I'm going to ask you to acknowledge and recognize that, as bad as it is, you're better off than virtually everybody in the whole nation."
The panel also adopted a formula that will tie part of funding for public colleges and universities to performance goals such as graduation rates and workforce development. The method will tie 5 percent of an institution's funding to those factors starting July 1, 2013.
The formula was adopted under legislation signed into law earlier this year requiring the state to link 25 percent of an institution's funding to performance by the 2017-2018 school year.
David Leech, the board's chairman, said he understands the frustration over the lack of additional funding for higher education and said the schools need to continue appealing to the Legislature that they should be a priority. Leech said he believed lawmakers used to view colleges and universities as the fourth-highest priority behind public schools, prisons and Medicaid.
"Fourth now is cutting taxes," Leech said. "Colleges are now fifth. The people in my part of the state aren't talking about cutting taxes. We've got to pay for what we get, and I think it's important we get the whole state on one line that we've got to make a priority of education."
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