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House passes bill capping tuition for higher education

April 11, 2006
By: Ferdous Al-Faruque
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House voted to impose a cap on tuition and fee increases on University of Missouri students.

Under the cap, the state's public higher education institutions would be restricted from raising tuition and fees beyond the consumer price index for urban areas of the state.

The cap was attached as an amendment to a broader bill to limit appropriation increases to higher education. The tuition cap amendment passed overwhelmingly -- 129-28. The bill itself won preliminary approval by a more narrow vote of 83-74.

The appropriations cap would be based on the 2001-2002 state appropriations -- well above the current level of funding.

Excess funds would go to maximum $1000 scholarships under the Access Missouri Program, and other schoalrships that could be used towards public or private universities.

"This is a backdoor way of giving dollars to private universities," said, Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, who opposed the bill. "It is another voucher bill, but it is for private universities."

Rep. Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, says that the bill would give taxpayers more options to choose where they and their families go to recieve higher education.

"A taxpayer is a taxpayer is a taxpayer," said Bearden, the Speaker Pro Tem. "The people who go to public schools or private schools all pay taxes."

Harris and Bearden squared off on the house floor debating the bill and the amendments that were voted into the bill earlier in the afternoon.

One of the new amendments dealt with setting a 2.5 percent increase to university appropriations annually to match what Bearden and Rep. T. Scott Muschany, R-St. Louis, argued was a little above the average inflation rate. This 2.5 percent institutioanl operating appropriations would be in effect until the Gallagher,and Guarantee scholarship programs were fully funded at which point the cap would be removed.

However, Harris and Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, argued that the higher education inflation rate was sometimes higher than regular inflation.

"I think that we are taking away local control from boards of curators of colleges and universities,"Baker said."The two things it does, putting a cap on state appropriations and tuitions, makes it inflexible to respond to market forces."

Bearden said, "There's a 50-50 split of people graduating from public and private universities."

"You and I have a fundamental disagreement,"Harris told Bearden on the floor. "I think you have a some what dim view of public universities."

In response Bearden said that he had had six years of experience dealing with appropriations and from his experience universities were inefficient.

"I object to the fact that they say our colleges and universities aren't efficient," Baker said. "We have proven that we can be effiecient in the past five years in the University of Missouri with 7000 new students."

Taking that into consideration,Baker said that Missouri has one of the lowest sate per capita funding for higher education.