JEFFERSON CITY — The latest iteration of the 2019 Missouri budget will fund the K-12 foundation formula for a second year in a row and provide an extra $10 million for school transportation.
Fully funding the formula will require a $98 million increase from last year, a decision made Monday by a conference committee — a joint committee of House and Senate members who meet to compromise and create a final version of the budget.
The $28 billion spending plan will still need approval from the full House and Senate later this week. The deadline to send a budget to the governor is Friday.
The $98 million increase to the foundation formula was included in the House version of the budget, but the Senate took $50 million of that increase and put $25 million toward K-12 transportation and the other half toward other areas including nursing homes. The two chambers settled on the House position Monday and compromised on the $10 million increase to the transportation budget.
In total, K-12 will see a funding increase of more than $110 million from last year. That didn’t go unnoticed by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who chairs the House Budget Committee.
“This is record funding — no matter which way you slice and dice it — for K-12,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve really invested a lot in K-12 between the Senate and House.”
Brent Ghan, deputy executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, praised the committee’s work.
“To come out of that both fully funding the foundation formula and increasing transportation is very good news for districts across the state,” Ghan said.
He said the proposed $10 million increase in transportation funding was especially welcome. Over the past 15 years or so, there has been a steady overall decrease in the percentage of money the state has allocated to school transportation.
“We’ve got to get kids to school,” Ghan said, “and local districts were picking up a greater share of the tab.”
Public higher education will also fare well in fiscal 2019, as the budget restores $68 million in cuts made in the governor’s plan. The restoration will come in exchange for keeping tuition increases capped at 1 percent, a deal brokered between Fitzpatrick and state universities.
Four cooperative programs operated between the UM System and other institutions were also a point of debate Monday. In the House version, the programs were funded at 60 percent of their required level. In the Senate plan, they were fully funded.
The conference committee went with the House version Monday, which also puts the money into universities’ core budgets, rather than funding them on a separate “line item.” Line items are more susceptible to being cut by the governor.
UM System President Mun Choi said because the programs will be funded at a 60 percent level, it will take time to reach full enrollment. One of the programs is the MU Medical School’s Springfield clinical campus, which focuses on rural health care. When at full capacity, the program will have 128 students — 32 in each grade.
“We’re going to do our best to ramp up our enrollment so that we can meet the targets that were established at 100 percent funding,” Choi said. “There has to be some cross subsidies from other parts of the program, and we have to look for efficiencies.”
Putting the money into the core budget will also help protect the programs in the future.
“We can’t just all of a sudden stop the program or reduce the program when we’ve accepted the students to attend medical school,” Choi said. “It’s very important for us to have that continuity, and putting it into the core gives us that continuity.”
After cuts have hit higher education hard the past several years, Choi said the situation is looking better for the present and future.
“Public higher education is in a much better place now, and I am very pleased to know that both houses... have really stepped up to the responsibility of helping public higher education, because it’s all about access and opportunity,” he said.
To help Missouri Southern State University deal with an impending financial and accreditation crisis, the committee approved a one-time $2 million funding increase for the university. The school’s governing board voted in April to raise tuition by 15 percent next year.
The committee denied, however, a $2 million one-time increase to Harris-Stowe State University’s budget that was included in the Senate plan. The committee settled on a compromise of $750,000, which Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, wasn’t pleased with. Nasheed had fought for the funding increase during meetings of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I’m not satisfied with that,” Nasheed said.
“You fought hard,” Fitzpatrick replied.
Aside from education, the committee also dealt with state employee pay raises and state employee health care plans Monday night.
Touted by Gov. Eric Greitens in his recommended budget, a statewide employee pay raise will be delayed by six months until January 2019. The pay raise would give $700 to employees making under $70,000 per year and a 1 percent raise to those making more than $70,000.
The Senate version recommended delaying the pay raise to help shore up money for the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, or MCHCP, which provides health care to state employees. It’s facing a funding crisis of its own, as representatives from MCHCP previously testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee that at one point it only had a day’s worth of reserves.
The budget approved Tuesday will also put more than $61 million into MCHCP, which will keep premiums flat. However, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums are expected to rise.
The conference committee planned to finish budget negotiations Monday night or Tuesday morning.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com.