Higher education is under the chopping block again after Gov. Eric Greitens released his budget plan for the 2019 fiscal year Monday, where he proposed an almost $98 million cut, or 10.8 percent.
While the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will gain almost $55 million in general revenue in Greitens’ proposed budget, the University of Missouri System will be cut by $43 million compared to the appropriation from the previous year.
This news for higher education comes after a $159 million cut the previous fiscal year.
During a press conference unveiling the $28.7 billion budget proposal, Greitens called his budget “common sense” and “conservative.”
“We are not raising taxes on the people of Missouri,” Greitens said. “We told departments to tighten their belts.”
But some lawmakers — who will have final say over the budget — are saying the higher education cuts are too large.
While it’s only the beginning of a long process for the budget, Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said he doesn’t want further cuts to higher education.
“If we can have some ‘aha’ moments in the budget and figure out if we can save money in certain places, I think there would be a lot of people in the legislature who would prefer to not see higher education cuts,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick will be meeting with UM System President Mun Choi next week to discuss how the UM System plans to move forward with the governor’s budget.
Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Cape Girardeau, criticized the governor’s continued attack on higher education.
“Another cut is going to do nothing but hurt our education system,” said Lichtenegger, chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee. “People are going to start going out of state to colleges because our professors are going to leave — that’s what I fear.”
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, did not respond to requests for comment, but he said in a Twitter post after the budget was released how the state needs prioritize higher education.
“We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of students; they are the future workers and job creators Missouri desperately needs to cultivate,” Rowden tweeted.
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said the proposed cuts to higher education is “very concerning” and that “there’s never been a greater need for a highly skilled, well-educated workforce.”
Greitens said that higher education leaders worked with him in preparing the budget, including Choi, and that the UM System identified more than $70 million in savings. The proposed budget also includes an increase in scholarship funding, including Access Missouri Scholarship Program and the A+ Scholarship Program.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said it is too soon to tell how the budget cuts will impact MU and the UM System.
“We understand that the state is facing significant fiscal challenges,” he said. “That’s also why we know that there is consideration to provide some relief related to Senate Bill 389.”
Senate Bill 389, passed in 2007, caps tuition increases for Missouri universities at the rate of inflation.
Repealing that bill “would help by giving us some flexibility in our budget,” Basi said. “So that when we have fiscal crises like these in the future we will have a little bit more flexibility.”
“Regardless of the fate of the bill,” Basi added, “we will always be looking for ways to make college more affordable.”
Lichtenegger said she supports raising tuition caps — even as a temporary resource to colleges and universities in the state. Rowden introduced a bill to raise higher education tuition caps last week.
“Let the universities have a waiver this year on being able to raise their tuition,” Lichtenegger said. “As a Republican, I’m for free enterprise, and I think that people are going to go where they can get the best education.”
When Greitens proposed his budget, he described the cut to higher education funding as being 7.7 percent. That’s because he deducted the amount of money he has already withheld from higher education funding this year when making his comparison. The Missourian is comparing all of the governor’s recommendations to the actual amounts appropriated last year.
Elementary and secondary schools will receive total funding of $6.1 billion. According to Greitens, this is a record high.
One change Greitens wants to see with these additional funds is an increase in teacher pay.
“Teachers in Missouri are not getting the pay they deserve,” Greitens said. “That’s why the 2019 budget increases pay for teachers in state-run schools, and we’re sending more money than ever to our elementary, middle and high schools, and we want to see that our school districts follow our lead and increase teacher pay.”
An additional $2 million will also go to K-12 transportation.
Brent Ghan, deputy executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said he was pleased with the governor’s proposed funding increase for K-12 education, but noted a continued trend in cuts for school transportation.
“Over the past few years, we have seen nothing but cuts to school transportation which is a significant cost for school districts,” he said. “It definitely puts a burden on the local budgets for school districts because we’ve got to get the kids to school somehow, so that’s a challenge, but the overall (increase) is a positive.”
Ghan said the overall impact of the proposal will vary across the state depending on how dependent a school district is on state funds.
“For those districts that don’t depend a lot on foundation formula funding, transportation could put a strain on their budgets, so it’s kind of a mixed bag,” he said.
The budget also includes funding for programs that support Missouri’s vulnerable children. There is a more than $11.6 million increase in total child welfare spending compared to appropriations from the previous year.
Among other recommendations, Greitens’ proposal includes a $162.8 million in new funding for construction and maintaining state bridges and road systems. The budget also includes $25 million in new funding to establish a Jobs and Infrastructure Fund so local governments can match funding to infrastructure projects.
In April 2017, Greitens proposed a plan to equip every school in Missouri with access to broadband internet with the aid of $6 million in state funding and $39 million in federal funding, according to previous Missourian reporting. Greitens said that this effort will continue this year with another $6 million.
Greitens also proposed a pay increase for some state workers.
If a civil service reform is passed by the end of the session, state employees who make $50,000 a year or less will also get an increase in pay of $650. In addition, “we are going to invest an additional $61.2 million in state employee health care, we are fully funding the contribution to state employee pensions at $14.2 million,” Greitens said.
Among the areas where Greitens believes money can be saved is Medicaid. One of the cuts he is proposing is $40 million in “cost containment initiatives” which he said would not involve cutting services.
“The state of Missouri spends more money on healthcare than we do on K-12 education, community colleges, technical colleges, domestic violence shelters, veterans programs, our judicial system, public safety and our corrections system combined. That massive spending increase on healthcare means we have to tighten up our other areas of government and spend less money,” Greitens said.
Missourian reporters Suman Naishadham, Kacen Bayless and Edward McKinley contributed to this report.
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