House budget plan would restore FY ’18 funding levels to colleges, universities

The Missouri House has perfected a budget proposal for the next fiscal year including an agreement to hold down college tuition, while restoring $68-million that Governor Eric Greitens (R) proposed cutting from colleges and universities.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

The House is proposing putting that money back into the core funding for those institutions, putting them back at the level of state support they are receiving in the current fiscal year.  In exchange, the state’s institutions will increase tuition by no more than one-percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) proposed an amendment that completed the restoration of that $68-million dollars.

“I think that this is the appropriate thing to do,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I think a one-percent tuition increase is manageable for the folks in this state.”

Under the agreement between Fitzpatrick and the institutions, the schools must receive the money the House has proposed appropriating.  If the appropriations are withheld by the governor or otherwise do not reach them, they can increase tuition based on the Consumer Price Index.

The agreement is supported by Democrats, including the top Democrat on the budget committee, Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia), whose district includes the University of Missouri’s flagship campus.

“I appreciate this and the whole conversation we’ve had in budget committee and working with the chair on reaching an agreement.  I think everyone in here has the intent of … wants to hold tuition increases to a minimum to make sure college remains affordable and accessible for all,” said Kendrick.  “Higher education institutions have taken it on the head in the last few years with some major budget cuts, so glad that we can do all that we can this year.”

Representative Kip Kendrick, the top Democrat on the Missouri House Budget Committee (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Until the agreement was reached, Fitzpatrick had proposed putting $30-million of the money that is now going to core funding into the Access Missouri scholarship program, which would have fully funded it.  Kendrick is glad to see that money going back to the core, but he hopes Access Missouri receives additional funding in future years.

“I love Access Missouri.  It is a fantastic, needs-based scholarship program in the State of Missouri.  It is our only needs-based aid program in the state and for a brief moment of time it had 30-million new dollars in it, and I hope that we can do what we can in the future also to make sure that we appropriately fund that line as well,” said Kendrick.

Budget committee member Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) agreed.

“While I wish that we could be funding Access Missouri and I hope that we try to do so in the future, representing Missouri State, one of the institutions who is a big part of this agreement, I was thankful for the budget chair to have the discussion and have everybody at the table and come up with this solution,” said Quade.

The tuition agreement does not extend to Missouri Southern in Joplin.  Fitzpatrick said their financial situation is dire enough that he agreed to let them opt out of the one-percent tuition cap requirement.

The funding for higher education is found in House Bill 2003, which itself appropriates more than $1.17-billion.  The House is expected to vote on that and the rest of the budget bills on Thursday.

If passed, they will go to the Senate, which will spend the coming weeks developing its own budget proposal based on the House’s plan.  The two chambers will then attempt to compromise on a final spending plan to send to the governor in May.

House budget leader has plan to restore higher ed funding, but wants agreement on tuition first

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.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

Representative Kip Kendrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.