Research And Extension Officials Worried About Potential State Budget Cuts

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

As Kansas lawmakers continue their budget battle in Topeka, there are new concerns over what it could mean for extension education programs.

K-State Research and Extension employees have been told they could be facing an 11-percent reduction in state funding over the next two years if a proposed 1.5 percent across-the-board cut to higher education ends up being part of Kansas' next budget.

Sedgwick County's Extension director said Thursday any further cuts would be devastating.

"In the last two years, we've taken a total of 30 percent cuts," Beverly Dunning, Sedgwick County Extension Director said.

Those cuts have come from Sedgwick County's budget and have forced Dunning to layoff two employees as well as cut and consolidate programs. Dunning worries about a proposed state budget cut that could force a currently vacant natural resources and agriculture agent position to go unfilled.

"We don't want that to happen," Dunning said. "That's a very important part of economic development in this county."

Dunning said extension involves much more than introducing farmers to new crops or providing gardening tips and she worries about the ripple effects any further cuts would have on other education programs.

"We are very involved in family life all the way round," Dunning said. "Whether it's in nutrition or whether it's helping people understand how to parent their children."

A program that could fall victim to the ripple effects of budget cuts is a summer 4-H program for at-risk youth at Wichita's Park Elementary School.

"If you were growing up in today's society and you didn't know how to interact with other people, you didn't know how to learn, you didn't know how to keep yourself healthy and safe, you really wouldn't do very well as an adult," said Beth Drescher, a Youth Development Extension Agent who coordinates the program.

While the summer 4-H program is funded by a grant, Drescher says extension budget cuts still come into play.

"If enough of the budget is cut, we will have to layoff staff here again and, if I'm not here, the program doesn't happen."

If cuts are made, their impact will not be limited to Sedgwick County. Kansas State University College of Agriculture Dean John Floros told employees in an e-mail the cuts could force the elimination of more than 100 vacant K-State faculty and staff positions statewide.

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