House Democrats call for 12.6-percent boost in higher-education operating expenses

House Democrats last week pledged to work in the 2007 legislative session to increase state appropriations for Missouri’s public colleges and universities by $110.7 million for the coming fiscal year.

House Democrats’ call for a 12.6-percent boost for operating expenses at higher-education institutions mirrors the funding increase recently recommended by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“As state funding for higher education has declined, tuition has increased,” Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, stated in a news release. “By bolstering our financial commitment to public institutions, we can reverse that trend and ensure a public higher education remains affordable for Missouri families.”

The Democratic proposal would result in total appropriations for public four-year institutions, community colleges and technical schools of nearly $988 million for fiscal 2008. That amount would bring higher-education spending back up to fiscal 2002 levels — the high-water mark for higher-education appropriations. The General Assembly appropriated $972 million for colleges and universities for fiscal 2002, but several years of budget cuts and withholdings followed.

Schoemehl stated that growth in state-revenue collections will more than cover the cost of improving higher-education appropriations. House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, has said the state will have as much as $500 million in unencumbered general revenue available for fiscal 2008.

Higher-education spending for the current fiscal year, fiscal 2007, is roughly the same as what the state appropriated for fiscal 1999. Adjusted for inflation, the current appropriation is only at a mid-1990s level.

Missouri received an “F” in college affordability on the National Report Card on Higher Education released earlier this year by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the release noted.

Missouri also received a failing grade in affordability on the previous national report card in 2004, according to the release.