SD Senate panel approves university funding plan

South Dakota Senate panel approves plan tying university funding to inflation, performance

Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- A South Dakota Senate panel on Thursday approved a plan intended to give state universities their fair share of any increases in state revenue while tying some of the funding to the schools' performance in priority areas.

The Education Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full Senate for further debate.

The measure does not require that the governor and the Legislature fund higher education at any particular level, but it suggests a formula for funding the six public universities.

Under the proposed formula, university funding would increase each year by the same percentage that overall state general tax collections rise.

The universities would first get extra funding to account for inflation, up to a maximum of 3 percent. The schools then could get extra funding based on their performance in expanding research and producing graduates in math, science, engineering, technology and other critical fields. Finally, the universities could get added money to cover increased enrollment and new programs.

The state's four technical institutes would not be covered by the proposed funding formula, but those two-year schools would be included in other provisions that provide for an ongoing review of policies, goals and performance measures in higher education.

Tad Perry of Fort Pierre, a former legislator who helped develop the proposal, said the measure seeks to fund the universities in line with higher education's goals.

Jack Warner, executive director of the state Board of Regents, said the board supports funding based on performance measures. The board, which governs the universities, currently allocates money among the schools based on such measures, he said.

"Our major goals are to improve student success and produce new graduates. The state needs more workers. It needs more highly educated workers," Warner said. The university system also stresses research that can be used to boost the state economy, he said.

The bill would create a new state council that includes officials from the governor's office, legislators and schools to make annual recommendations for any changes in higher education goals. The council would not manage the schools, so the Board of Regents would continue to manage universities and the state Board of Education would continue to oversee the technical schools, Perry said.

Regents officials have said the universities have been hurt in the past 12 years by a lack of funding increases to keep up with inflation. At the same time, enrollment has grown by 8,000 students, they said.

The bill's funding framework originally included the four technical schools, but the committee changed the measure so the funding proposal only deals with universities.

Dick Tieszen, a Pierre lawyer who represents the technical schools, said funding for the institutes should not be tied to overall enrollment increases because the schools have to frequently adjust enrollment in particular courses to meet the needs of employers.

The Senate committee also approved a bill that would require the state Labor Department to report job placements for university graduates. Under another bill passed by the committee, state agencies would have to report how university graduates perform on licensing or certification examinations.

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