House panel advances education budget plan

A Missouri House panel forged ahead with a budget plan Wednesday that would make education funding partly dependent on the strength of the economy and bar colleges from offering cheaper resident tuition rates to students living in the U.S. illegally.

The plan approved by the House Budget Committee takes a two-tiered approach, not typically used in Missouri, to fund hundreds of public school districts and dozens of state colleges and universities.

If state revenues meet the projections of the Republican-led Legislature, schools would get a $122 million increase over their current $3 billion of basic aid. If revenues meet Gov. Jay Nixon’s more optimistic projections, schools could get a total of a $278 million increase in basic aid, though they might have to wait until near the end of the school year to know if that happens.

“We are providing a really, really solid increase for the foundation formula” for schools, said Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, a member of the budget panel.

No matter how much money schools ultimately receive, the proposed funding hike still would fall short of the $556 million increase needed to fully comply with a state school funding law.

The House budget plan would take a similar approach with higher education. Nixon had proposed a performance-based increase of 5 percent for public universities and 4 percent for community colleges. The House plan instead offers all higher education institutions a 2 percent funding increase, with a chance for a 3 percent increase if revenues come in above the Legislature’s projections.

Republican committee members added wording Wednesday to the budget that would prohibit public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to students living in the country illegally. The amendment was a response to a plan by St. Louis Community College to offer local tuition rates to such students. Democratic committee members said many of those students have lived in U.S. most of their lives, having been bought here at a young age by parents who immigrated illegally or stayed here longer than permitted.

By barring those students from paying the lower tuition afforded to Missouri residents, “we are standing in the way of someone going on to get a college education” said Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.

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