- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s public colleges and universities could be assured a 5 percent funding increase under a budget plan embraced Tuesday by a Senate panel that sets different education priorities than one passed by the House.

While allotting a larger increase to higher education institutions, the Senate’s proposed spending plan for the 2015 budget year includes a smaller increase in Missouri’s main college scholarship program than proposed by the House. The Senate Appropriations Committee also made numerous other changes, one of the largest additions being $33 million for a new building for The State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia.

Senators stuck with the House’s two-pronged funding approach for K-12 public schools, which sets one level of funding based on legislative revenue projections and a second, higher amount if revenues meet Gov. Jay Nixon’s more optimistic forecasts. But the Senate’s plan would provide a slightly smaller minimum increase than the House version.

The Republican-led Legislature is considering a roughly $26 billion budget for the next fiscal year. The House plan passed last month left out some of the Democratic governor’s recommendations, most notably to spend about $2 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income adults.

The changes made Monday still must go before the full Senate. Negotiators from the two chambers then will have until May 9 to work out their differences and send a final version to Nixon.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said his plan places a greater emphasis on higher education institutions because their state funding has yet to rebound to the amounts budgeted in 2008, before a recession led to state funding cuts.

The Senate’s plan would provide a 5 percent increase - totaling more than $43 million - to public universities and community colleges, with the money to be divvied out based on whether institutions met performance goals.

Nixon had proposed a 5 percent performance increase for universities but a 4 percent increase for community colleges. The House had approved a 3 percent performance increase for both colleges and universities, part of which was dependent upon revenues meeting Nixon’s higher projections.

The Senate panel also reduced the funding increase for Missouri’s main college scholarship program to $8.6 million, as recommended by Nixon, instead of the House’s $20.1 million increase.

The House budget plan contained nothing for the new Historical Society building near the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, said the long-planned building is an important improvement.

“It’s time to build that facility and to make sure that the priceless collections that we’ve got - that right now are in the basement of the university library - don’t succumb to water damage or anything else, and that they’re available for the public to enjoy,” he said.

Historical Society Executive Director Gary Kremer said the planned 100,000 square-foot building would nearly triple the space of the current facility, which is plagued by water leaks.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, said he supports a new building, but “the question is how do we fund it, where does the money come from and where does it fit in the priority list?”

The House budget plan would provide K-12 public schools with a $122 million increase to the nearly $3.1 billion of basic school aid if revenues meet legislative expectations. If revenues grow by Nixon’s more optimistic forecast, schools could get a $278 million increase under the House plan.

The Senate panel retained that maximum figure but set the minimum school funding increase at $115 million.

The Senate committee also cut several other funding increases approved by the House, including dropping an increase for school transportation costs by $10 million to $15 million - the amount originally recommended by Nixon.

Nixon had sought a $20 million increase for a Missouri preschool program. The House approved an $8.2 million increase. The Senate panel endorsed a $3.1 million increase.


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