House restores some higher education funding for fiscal year 2019

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JEFFERSON CITY - House representatives passed an amendment to House Bill 3 which, if given final approval, will restore $30 million in cuts to core funding for public higher education institutions. 

The House took back those funds that had been placed temporarily in Access Missouri, a grant program for undergraduate students.

"That 30 million dollars back in the core is going to mean undoing the 68 million dollars in proposed cuts by the governor of the state," said Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia.

Chairman of the Higher Education Committee Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, said well-funded higher education institutions are important for the progress of the state. 

"It's extremely important, you are talking about workforce development. Higher education gets people ready for that," she said. "We don't have a workforce without higher education, all the way from community colleges, our state technical school, and our 22 public colleges.”

However, the restoration of funding cuts for higher education institutions was not the only effect of the amendment the House passed Tuesday. 

"We've also funded some of the special-initiative lines, such as the med school expansion in Springfield, in cooperation with the University of Missouri, pharmacy school expansion, engineering school expansion,"  Kendrick said.

Kendrick also said "some of those programs had been funded about 60 percent of what had been proposed in the past."

Lichtenegger said the restoration of funding for public institutions is essential to keep public schools in operation. 

"Otherwise, we had schools that were literally going to have to close down," she said. "The last thing you want do is making harder for a student to get into a school.”

Kendrick said in order to eliminate the budget cuts for public higher education, the House Budget Committee had to zero down some of Governor Greitens' decision items for fiscal year 2019.

"Some of the Governor’s proposed plans for this next fiscal year were amended during the budgeting process to make sure that we can fund out current priorities adequately before we start new programs,” he said. 

In addition, Kendrick said some of the funds restored to higher education became available for the state when the Federal Government extended the CHIP program.

"It freed up some state money that we've set aside to make sure that we could continue CHIP," he said.

Kendrick said the support for the amendment to House Bill 3 was "fairly overwhelming." On Thursday, the House will do a third read and final vote on the amended bill before sending it to the Senate.

"I've had conversations with several senators on higher education funding. I think that there is the intent to make sure that we can keep the funding in there, and maybe even see what else we could additionally do for public higher education,” Kendrick said. 

Higher education institutions had suffered budget cuts in the last fiscal years. In FY18 there was a 9 percent cut, and in FY17 the cuts were of 7 percent.