Bill would check on Missouri scholarships

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | 7:50 p.m. CST; updated 7:57 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 12, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — A Senate bill would charge the Joint Committee on Education with conducting a study of three of Missouri's higher education scholarships funded by the state. 

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, introduced SB 494 before the Senate's education committee Wednesday, saying the Bright Flight scholarship program, the A+ program and the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program would be broken down by their respective eligibility requirements, acceptance of aid by eligible students and the graduation rates of the recipients, among other criteria.

Pearce said that dropout rates and defaults on loans are just a few issues the study would explore.

Pearce pointed out that the lion's share of spending for higher education in Missouri goes toward building needs and infrastructure but it would be beneficial for lawmakers to know what Missouri gets back for its investment through the scholarships it funds. 

He said the 2014 portion of the state budget allocated about $117 million to these three scholarship programs. Access Missouri, a needs-based program, took up nearly 60 percent of the full funding. The A+ program took $35 million and Bright Flight accounted for the remaining $15 million. 

"This is just to make sure they're as efficient as possible," Pearce said. "It's designed for the joint committee to look at and see how successful they are."

Pearce said this bill is timely with Gov. Jay Nixon's remarks late last year about making changes to some scholarships such as the Bright Flight program. He said this much-needed information is essential for lawmakers to have in hand before implementing changes. 

Pearce said the idea took form after seeing how other states were implementing similar studies at a state governments conference.

"Are we as a state accomplishing what we need to do?" he asked.

Mike Moorefield, the director of policy and legislative affairs in the state treasurer's office, spoke in support of the bill for Treasurer Clint Zweifel. Moorefield recommended one amendment to the bill. He said the Joint Committee should also evaluate how the state approaches state-based scholarships in accessibility and affordability for all students, along with exploring how Missouri rates among other states in these categories. 

When asked if he had any closing remarks, Pearce laughed and said, "It's a good bill." 

There is no fiscal note for this bill. 

Supervising editor is Gary Castor.

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