House passes budget for higher education
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House passes budget for higher education

Date: March 27, 2008
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 2003 and the governor's budget proposal.

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House passed one of the larger increases for higher education in recent years -- but not without opposition from some House members who argued the 9.8 percent increase in state funds was not enough.

"We face one of the largest credit crunches," said Rep. Clint Zweifel, D-St. Louis County. "We have the highest tuition in the Big 12. When Missouri is worst in affordability, we have a big problem."

Zweifel said that as a first-generation college graduate, he thinks the budget lacks a real focus on access and affability for families.

"Families are going to have less opportunities to borrow, and borrowing for college is obviously one of the most important things that families can do to help improve their economic opportunities for the long term," Zweifel said.

"We are above what the constitution of this state mandates," said budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County. "We are keeping our commitment, and our numbers prove that."

"As the economy continues to contract, as borrowing opportunities lessen, organizations like MOHELA, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, are more important for families than ever before," Zweifel said.

Opposition also was voiced on the Republican side, but for a much different reason -- concerns that the University of Missouri might engage in embryonic and fertility research. Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, said that she didn't want to vote to fund something that "kills life."

Although Sander said that she was not making an accusation, she said she plans to contact the university to ask more questions regarding her concerns.

She said that after she finished her inquiry, a representative from the University of Missouri told her that this type of research was not occurring at MU, but she is not fully convinced.

"There is no fertility research performed on human embryos on the MU campus," said Michael Roberts, curators' professor of animal science, in a written statement. "There are a number of individuals, including myself, who conduct fertility research on embryos of farm species and mouse. Our goals are to improve fertility in agricultural species and to minimize early pregnancy losses ... I also conduct research on approved lines, i.e. ones sanctioned by the president in August 2001, of human embryonic stem cells in work supported by the National Institutes of Health. The goal of this work is to understand how placental cells form and why so many human pregnancies fail."

The University of Missouri would get a 4.1 percent increase in state funds under the House-passed plan.

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, expressed concern about elimination of the "Preparing to Care" program from the higher education budget. The program would provide inceased funds for teaching in health professions.

However, it was one of several cuts the House made to pare about $100 million from the total budget package proposed by the governor. House Budget Chair Icet had expressed concerns about the governor's plan to spend most of the state's projected $500 million surplus at a time of increasing predictions of an economic downturn.

The budget package now goes to the Senate, where Icet predicts further cuts will be made to the overall budget.