The Missouri House announced an agreement Tuesday to restore funding to higher education in the state.
Republican Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick of Shell Knob told the full chamber that the arrangement between the legislature and state’s 13 four-year institutions, community colleges, and the State Technical College calls for the schools to receive $68 million that Governor Eric Greitens withheld in his budget proposal in January.
In exchange, the schools are limited to raising tuition no more than 1%. The arrangement ensures the schools will get the same level of funding in the upcoming fiscal year beginning in July as they’re presently receiving, although the arrangement still leaves higher education $30 million short of full funding.
Fitzpatrick pegged the total allocation at $1.177 billion. One four-year institution, Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, has been exempted from the agreement because of its dire financial state and will be allowed to raise tuition more than 1%.
State revenues are currently in better shape than in recent years when significant money was withheld from colleges and universities. As of Tuesday year-to-date revenue growth was 4.13% over last year.
During discussion of the higher education portion of the budget, a handful of amendments were offered by House members from both sides of the aisle.
One from Democrat Kip Kendrick of Columbia, the Ranking Minority Member of the Budget Committee, would cap the income level of parents for their kids to be eligible for the state’s A+ program.
A+ offers scholarship money for two-year community colleges and technical schools for students who attend qualifying high schools. Kendrick suggested the program be limited to family’s who make $150,000 net income or less per year in order to serve those who most need the help.
“I think that we can put some very reasonable parameters on the program by putting a ceiling on it to make sure that those who need the program, (we) are making sure that the A+ program is protected for them moving forward in the future,” said Kendrick.
In a fiery and angry response, Republican Kevin Engler of Farmington accused Kendrick of using class warfare. “When you say, ‘We want to fund A+ for illegal immigrants, but we want to take successful people and not fund them, not let them be successful and get the same aid as every other Missourian’, you lose,” said Engler.
Engler also said it’s class warfare on the part of Democrats that led to the rise of Republicans from the minority to super-majority status in the legislature. Hendrick’s amendment was soundly defeated by Republicans who said all families should have access to same scholarship money, regardless of income.
Republican Representative Mike Moon of Ash Grove rose to state that he had considered offering an amendment to the higher education bill that would restrict the use of taxpayer funds for training students in the performance of abortions.
Moon, who is one of the most vocal anti-abortion members of the legislature, said he’d been horrified by a statement from a medical student during a hearing earlier in the session. But he said his amendment would achieve what he hoped it would accomplish and would not be offering it during the budget debate.
Democrat Judy Morgan of Kansas City was strongly rebuked by Republicans when she put forth an amendment to offer in-state tuition to students who are undocumented immigrants. She stated that her intention was to help individuals known as “dreamers” who have lived in the country most of their lives after arriving at an early age.
Numerous GOP members stated that it would be unfair to give in-state tuition to people in the country illegally when U.S. citizens for other states wouldn’t qualify for the same treatment.
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, the House had not voted on any portion of the budget bill.