JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri system would get more money and its students would get a new scholarship program under the education budget plan Gov. Mel Carnahan presented to state lawmakers Wednesday.
"It's one of the biggest increases in funding for Missouri that I can think of in a while," said Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.
Carnahan proposed that Missouri's four-campus system get an 8.5 percent increase in state funds over last year for its operating budget.
"It's a fantastic recommendation on the part of the governor," said Jim Snider, the university's lobbyist. "It's going to mean some investments that are going to make the University of Missouri a better place for students and researchers."
Half the increase, or $15 million, is earmarked to help Missouri with "mission enhancement," a program passed last year by the legislature that's designed to help Missouri's public universities with long-term planning. Another $15 million goes for inflation. The governor also proposed funds for capital improvements, including $7 million for the Columbia campus.
Snider said part of the proposal for the Columbia campus includes decreasing the reliance on teaching assistants who are first-year graduate students and replacing them with full-time faculty.
The governor also proposed $4.9 million for a new scholarship program, called the Bridge Scholarship. Carnahan said the plan would "bridge the gap" between Pres. Clinton's Hope Scholarship and other sources of financial aid. It would offer up to $1,500, with a $3,000 lifetime maximum, to students attending post-secondary institutions.
The top Republican in the House, Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said he hadn't had a chance to review the details of the governor's budget, but his party would continue to ensure "taxpayers are a priority" during the budget process.
Delbert said the Republicans included a $500 tuition tax credit in a package of bills the party introduced last week.
Higher education, in general, would be one of the big winners under the governor's budget plan.
While he proposed a 7.1 percent increase in total state general revenue spending, higher education would enjoy a 10.9 percent increase.
The state's fiscal year begins July 1. The legislature has until May 8 to pass a budget.