Missouri lawmakers pass more than $28B budget proposal

6 months 1 week 14 hours ago Thursday, May 10 2018 May 10, 2018 Thursday, May 10, 2018 4:51:00 AM CDT May 10, 2018 in News
By: The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — A more than $28 billion budget proposal with close to $99 million more for Missouri K-12 public schools next fiscal year and stable higher education funding passed the state Legislature on Wednesday.

If enacted, the plan would meet funding goals for elementary and secondary education as outlined in state law. It also would add another $10 million for school busing, which Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Brown described as "excellent." And it includes $50 million more for early childhood education.

The budget proposal applies to state spending for the fiscal year beginning in July.

Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick lauded Missouri for funding K-12 education "at record levels, while we have teachers protesting in capitols in Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky and a constitutional funding crisis in Kansas."

"This body and our partners in the Senate have shown a commitment to funding K-12 education that most of the neighboring states that surround us have not," Fitzpatrick told colleagues on the House floor.

But some Democrats argued the budget plan still wouldn't give schools enough money, even though the final allocation is $50 million more than what senators initially voted for.

"Either way, we're underfunding education," St. Louis Rep. Peter Merideth said. "It's hard to argue with that contention, because the schools don't have the funding they need."

While Republican Gov. Eric Greitens called for a roughly $68 million cut compared to what public colleges and universities are expected to receive this year, lawmakers instead opted to give most higher education schools stable funding. In exchange, Fitzpatrick forged a deal with institutions, with the exception of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, to cap tuition increases at 1 percent.

Several universities are slated to get slight increases. Lawmakers budgeted another $2 million for Missouri Southern State University and another $750,000 for Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis to go toward meeting accreditation standards.

Harris-Stowe State University officials were hoping for $2 million, which President Dwaun J. Warmack said would pay for six new full-time faculty members, two mental health counselors and one nurse needed for accreditation.

Lincoln University in Jefferson City is slated for a $4 million one-time funding boost aimed at helping the school draw down federal land grant money.

The full budget plan also includes a pay raise for state workers. Employees making less than $70,000 a year are set to get $700 raises, and those making more are budgeted for 1 percent raises.

While House lawmakers initially slated the raises to take effect in July, budgeters later agreed to delay the pay hikes until January 2019. The savings will go toward preventing premium hikes for state worker health insurance, although deductibles are still set to go up.

Brown also touted increases for the rate paid to reimburse nursing homes and other providers for care of people on Medicaid, which Brown said will lead to "better care" for those patients.

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