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Colleges in Republican districts would gain greater share of state funding under Senate plan

May 05, 2003
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Four colleges in Republican-controlled Senate districts would gain a larger share of state funding for higher education, while the University of Missouri system would see its share decrease under the Senate's budget plan.

If the plan is approved by the House and the governor, the UM system will receive nearly seven percent less in state funding than last year. Missouri Southern and Missouri Western would both receive increases over last year, and Northwest Missouri State would take a cut of less than one percent.

Southwest Missouri State, the second largest university in the state, would take a percentage cut more than a third smaller than the UM system.

Those four colleges all sit in districts with Republican senators, and three of those senators sit on the Senate's Appropriations Committee --the committee that this year decided funding levels for individual colleges.

The University of Missouri's largest campus is in the district of Democratic minority leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.

In January, Republicans took control of both houses of Missouri's legislature for the first time in more than 50 years.

According to Chris Kelly of the Coordinating Board of Higher Education, the CBHE has recommended for a number of years that SMSU, Missouri Southern, and Missouri Western receive a higher percentage of state funding to colleges. More recently, it also recommended that Northwest receive a larger share.

But those recommendations did not make much headway in the Capitol until recently.

For example, the CBHE recommended in December of 2000 that SMSU receive a higher percentage of state funding for higher education. SMSU got half of that increase during fiscal year 2002, but the remainder was left out of the current year's budget. Gov. Bob Holden also chose not to include SMSU's increase in his funding recommendations for next year.

But with the Republican takeover of the Senate, SMSU, Missouri Southern, Missouri Western, and Northwest Missouri State gained friends in higher places.

For SMSU, the Senate plan's means it will receive $1.9 million more than if it had taken the same percentage cut as the UM system. Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that though SMSU would be taking an overall cut this year, it stood to gain in the long term if the Senate's plan is enacted.

"This establishes that this is where SMS's funding will be," Champion said. "The $2 million increase will be an ongoing increase."

Missouri Southern is in the hometown of Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin. Nodler is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, but said that the funding change wasn't an issue of politics, but equity, as the CBHE had already recommended the four schools receive more state funds.

"It's an indication of who's been discriminated against in the past," Nodler said. "I think it's a bipartisan approach to solving a long term problem for the state."

But Jacob, who is not a member of the Appropriations Committee, hinted otherwise.

"There are certainly benefits to being in the majority," he said.

Jacob said he considered trying to amend the budget bill on the Senate floor, but chose not to for fear that Republicans would respond by cutting funding for higher education more deeply than they already had.

Two weeks ago the Senate passed a budget for next year cutting funding for higher education by $50 million over the current year. The House, which approved a much smaller cut in March, voted Monday to conference with the Senate in order to agree on a budget to send to Gov. Bob Holden for approval.