Who could see this coming?
The Missouri General Assembly was grinding through one of its more unseemly legislative sessions. Matters of real import languished as lawmakers engaged in one political spat after another.
And then this: House Speaker Steven Tilley grabbed hold of a budget bill last week and put in $2 million for his alma mater, Southeast Missouri State University. By singling out Southeast for its second-lowest funding-to-student ratio, Tilley suddenly put the spotlight on Missouri Western State University — the campus with the lowest funding per student.
A day or so later, the great compromise of the 2013 budget emerged. About $30 million from the casinos will fund veterans' nursing homes. To replace that money, $35 million from the nationwide tobacco settlement will fund early childhood programs. And most of the state's 10 public universities will share in $3 million awarded to address funding inequities.
Western and Northwest Missouri State University each could receive about $515,000. At Western, the money likely would be used to give faculty and staff their first general pay raise in four years and to replenish reserves.
As important, an amendment authored by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, requires the legislature to develop an equitable funding formula for public universities to be implemented by 2015.
Gov. Jay Nixon still must sign off on the spending plan. And a budget withholding always is possible; lawmakers have left just $6 million for midyear adjustments — far less than normal.
You also never can take for granted that lawmakers two years from now will make wise decisions in crafting a new higher education funding formula. You can hope, but you never can be sure.
The one certainty: This late-session development has put the subject of fairness in funding in play.
Distributed by The Associated Press. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.