The budget scheduled for a vote today in the Rhode Island House of Representatives includes $6 million in additional funding for public colleges and universities, but it would also make a significant reduction at the Office of Higher Education.
The spending plan cuts $1 million from OHE's budget, roughly 43 percent of the office's total funding. The budget endorsed by the House Finance Committee provides $1.2 million for OHE.
Higher Education officials say they are waiting until the budget is finalized to look at the impact of the cut. OHE Spokesman Mike Trainor says State Education Board Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso continues to advocate for "appropriate funding" for OHE.
"Board Chair Eva Marie Mancuso is working closely with the State Budget Office to understand the rationale for this proposed cut and she will continue to advocate for appropriate funding for OHE," Trainor said.
The Office of Higher Education is scheduled to stop receiving funding altogether by June 30th of 2014 under a merger of the state boards in charge of public schools and public colleges and universities. The merger was a last minute addition last year's budget, which gave the new State Board of Education six months to decide how to distribute the duties of the State Office of Higher Education among the three state colleges and universities.
While the budget article ended funding for OHE, it also specified that the state would retain a commissioner of higher education. The position was mentioned as separate from State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who oversees public elementary and secondary education.
It remains unclear how the commissioner of higher education would function effectively without a staff or a budget. OHE Spokesman Mike Trainor declined to speculate about how the Board of Education would hire a full-time commissioner for higher education under the proposed budget.