Performance-based funding bill heads to Senate Appropriations Committee

SB 492 has received support from university representatives, but a Columbia legislator still has concerns
Saturday, February 8, 2014 | 6:31 p.m. CST; updated 7:53 a.m. CST, Monday, February 10, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Presidents from Missouri's public universities will meet with the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday to discuss proposed changes to performance-based higher education funding models.

Though SB 492 has received support from university leaders, it will likely face tough questions Tuesday from one of its most public detractors, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Under the bill, four-year institutions would receive 90 percent of new funding based on five criteria set by the individual universities in conjunction with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Though a version of these measures has been in place for the last two years, the bill would add legal backing to the performance-based funding system.

"It doesn't have the force of law right now. So if we had a different coordinating board, they could back away from this performance-based funding," said Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, the bill's sponsor and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Last year's proposal extended performance measures to include 10 percent of universities' core funding in addition to any new money added in the budget. Pearce said that by limiting the performance funding to 90 percent of new allocations, the bill has seen overwhelming support this year.

"I think because of (the changes), we're getting unilateral support for the bill," Pearce said, noting that the Council on Public Higher Education, which represents Missouri's 13 public universities, voted unanimously to support SB 492. "We just want to make sure that this is permanent, and that we can put in some stipulations for what we think is important with those standards."

SB 492 currently mandates that two of the five criteria must address graduation and retention rates. Pearce said that Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, has offered an amendment to existing language that would include job placement as a criteria, but it has not gone to vote.

"I think this is a step in the right direction to hold universities more accountable and make them more efficient," Pearce said. "It's a good way for universities themselves to find areas where they want to excel, where they want to improve, and be rewarded for that behavior."

Pearce said that Schaefer, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will have three main questions for the presidents Tuesday: What's the graduation rate? What's the retention rate? What's the loan default rate?

Schaefer, who blocked a vote on last year's bill, still expresses doubts on the efficacy of performance-based funding.

"I don't know how effective that's going to be in truly allocating state dollars in the best possible use," Schaefer said. "Some of these schools, when you look at the data, do an excellent job of taking a public dollar that we give them and delivering a great product in the classroom for their students, and some of them don't. I'm hoping this year is the first year that we can really start looking into the accountability of how this money is spent."

Schaefer also voiced concerns about the bill's proposal for the remaining 10 percent for new education funding, which would be rewarded to all public schools as an equity payment.

"The institutions are not equal. They're not offering the same thing," Schaefer said. "It doesn't mean that they don't have value, but it's really not a reasonable way to budget."

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