Despite increase, some ask for more

Thursday, March 27, 2008 | 9:36 p.m. CDT; updated 4:38 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House passed one of the larger increases for higher education in recent years — but not without opposition from some House members who argued the 9.8 percent increase in state funds was not enough.

“We face one of the largest credit crunches,” said Rep. Clint Zweifel, D-Florissant. “We have the highest tuition in the Big 12. When Missouri is worst in affordability, we have a big problem,” he said.

Zweifel said that as a first-generation college graduate, he believes the budget lacks a real focus on access for families.

“Families are going to have less opportunities to borrow, and borrowing for college is obviously one of the most important things that families can do to help improve their economic opportunities for the long term,” Zweifel said.

However, Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, and vice chairman of the House budget committee, said “we are above what the constitution of this state mandates.” “We are keeping our commitment, and our numbers prove that,” Icet said.

“As the economy continues to contract, as borrowing opportunities lessen, organizations like MOHELA, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, are more important for families than ever before,” Zweifel said.

Opposition also was voiced on the Republican side but for a much different reason: concerns that MU might engage in embryonic and fertility research.

Under the House-passed plan, MU would get a 4.1 percent increase in state funds.

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, expressed concern about elimination of the “Preparing to Care” program from the higher education budget. The program would provide increased funds for teaching in health professions.

However, it was one of several cuts the House made to cut about $100 million from the total budget package proposed by the governor. Icet had expressed concerns about the governor’s plan to spend most of the state’s projected $500 million surplus at a time of increasing predictions of an economic downturn.

The budget package now goes to the Senate, where Icet predicts further cuts will be made to the overall budget.

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