Blunt's speech includes increased funding to education
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Blunt's speech includes increased funding to education

Date: January 24, 2007
By: Tina Marie Macias
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's governor offered higher education a kind of carrot and stick combination in his State of the State address Wednesday night.

The carrot came in the form of one of the largest higher education budget increases recommended by a governor in recent years.  But the stick came in the governor's proposal to give the Higher Education Department power to set standards for universities and controll tuition increases.

"No tuition increase should exceed the rate of inflation," Matt Blunt told the joint session of the General Assmebly.

"Missouri is no longer just competing with states like Kansas and Illinois, but we are now in the global economy competing with India and Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong," Blunt said. "If we are to make Missouri families even more prosperous, we must ensure that students are equipped with advanced skills in math and science."

Minority Floor Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he applauds the governor's math and science initiative, but that was the only compliment Democrats had for the speech, saying it lacked substance.

Blunt's budget, which was presented earlier Wednesday, increases higher education funding by 6.2 percent.  The University of Missouri system would get a 4.3 percent increase in state funds under the governor's plan for operation of the four-campus system.  The state budget allocates the funds in one single lump sum to the University for the Curators to allocate.

 

"That's because they've been starved forever," Sen. Wes Shoemeyer, D-Clarence, said, saying that he would like more money to be allocated to higher education than is in the governor's proposal.

 

The Coordinating Board for Higher Education asked for a $110 million increase. Blunt is giving an extra $40 million to higher education and said he increases will come once higher education shows they are more accountable for their students.

 

In a press conference after the speech, Democrats said Blunt was too vague in this, and had not heard of a plan to measure accountability.

 

Blunt also boasted of an extra $215 million to K-12 public education so that learning can be increased and the number of college freshmen taking remedial colleges classes can decrease.

 

"Today, 36 percent of Missouri's college freshmen require basic remedial courses in college," Blunt said. "Taxpayers should not have to pay twice for the same classes."

 

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said that increased funding to lower education is nothing to be proud of because it happens every year, and added that it's not always the high school's fault that a student fails a course.

 

"We have to be careful of what we blame higher education for," Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said. "Let's say a kid goes to college and has too much of a fun time their freshman year and blow a course. It happens -- it happened to me.

 

Shoemeyer said he takes offense to Blunt's comments about parents paying twice for remedial courses -- once in lower education and a second time in higher education.

 

Shoemeyer said the comment was hypocritical, especially "coming from an administration where I've watched double-digit tuition increases going through our institutions," he said, adding that he has a daughter in law school. "For individuals...to say they don't want to pay twice -- we'll be paying for a lifetime," added, speaking about the the governor's proposed sale of the state's higher education loan authority.

 

This year's State of the State wasn't just about what Gov. Matt Blunt said, but also what he failed to mentioned.

 

During Blunt's hour-long address to Missourians, he failed to mention a special session to discuss the sale of MOHELA assets.

 

But Shoemeyer said that he prefers to find a solution to MOHELA during the regular session.

 

Under Blunt's plan -- called the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative -- $335 million that MOHELA collects from loans held by people in other states would be used for building projects in Missouri.

 

"Missouri's colleges and universities have been waiting far too long for this critical boost in quality. Each additional day that we wait means increased costs," he said. "I ask you to act with urgency and approve the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative."

 

Shoemeyer presented an alternative to the governor's MOHELA plan Wednesday, calling for 1.5 percent of MOHELA's total assets to go toward scholarships and financial aid. The loan authority currently has $743 million in assets.

 

Blunt also added that he will increase need-based scholarship funding from $27.5 million to $72.5 million. And will make sure tuition increases do not exceed the rate of inflation.