The Missouri House budget committee has a plan to continue funding of Missouri’s colleges and universities at the amount budgeted last year, but in exchange lawmakers want those institutions to freeze tuition.
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the solution comes from money the state set aside for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Because federal funding for the program was uncertain, the state set aside funds for CHIP. Now that federal funding has come through, Fitzpatrick has said the state could restore all $68-million that Governor Eric Greitens (R) proposed cutting from higher education.
Fitzpatrick said full restoration is his goal, but he is seeking agreement from the state’s institutions that they will hold down tuition.
“I want to make sure that if we’re putting that money back it’s going to result in holding down the cost of college for Missouri students, so I’m in the process of trying to seek a deal on holding down tuition with the institutions in the state in exchange for making a full restoration,” said Fitzpatrick. “So far that deal has not been agreed to and so what we did was we put, out of the $68-million we took $30-million of that, which is the amount that it takes to fully fund the Access Missouri Scholarship, which is the state’s need-based scholarship program, and we fully funded that scholarship because if tuition is going to go up I want to make sure that we are putting some of that money into a place where it’ll help the people that are having to pay that tuition offset it.”
Fitzpatrick told the rest of the committee that if the institutions agree to his plan he will put that $30-million back toward their state support. If they don’t agree, he will leave that $30-million where it is and might move some of the remaining $38-million to other things.
“My goal is to help the institutions out but I also want that to translate into the cost of college being held down, and I don’t plan to seek an agreement that tuition won’t be raised every single year but I do think if we’re going to be spending close to $70-million on just going back into institutional budgets that there should be some consideration for that,” said Fitzpatrick.
The leading Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Kip Kendrick (Columbia), said he’s still undecided on whether he supports the chairman’s proposed agreement, but he thinks the committee’s members all want to see tuition as level as possible and keep higher education affordable for Missourians.
“It’s hard to make an argument against fully funding the only needs-based scholarship program we have in the state of Missouri,” said Kendrick. “Access Missouri provides access, as it says – it’s in the name. It provides access to many Missourians – middle-class and lower-income individuals – to higher education. It’s an important program, it’s been underfunded for a number of years, so it’s hard to necessarily argue with where it currently stands.”
Kendrick said he hopes before the budget is final money could be found to both restore core funding to colleges and universities and to fully fund Access Missouri.
The budget committee will go through it’s “mark up” process next week. Individual members of the committee will propose changes they want to make – to increase funding where they think it should be increased and propose where that funding could be pulled from. From there, the committee will vote on whether to send each budget bill to debate by the full House, which is expected to happen after the legislature’s spring break.