Tuition plan raises questions of fairness

Friday, March 2, 2007

By John L. Cook

You printed a letter Feb. 23 from John Lichtenegger concerning Missouri Senate Bill 389, the so-called MOHELA bill. Lichtenegger's letter pointed out that the bill provides state grants in maximum amounts of $1,000 for students at two-year public institutions; $2,150 for students at four-year public institutions and $4,600 for students at four-year private schools.

In response, a Feb. 27 letter from the speaker pro tem of the Missouri House, Carl Bearden, starts as follows: "I read with interest John Lichtenegger's letter regarding the student financial aid proposal. It attempts to create a distorted picture of the proposal."

A pattern is developing in the leadership of the Missouri House. Rod Jetton is the speaker. Carl Bearden is his No. 2. Jetton accused state Rep. Scott Lipke of deceit for including a provision in a bill which Lipke had sent to all prosecutors and to all representatives and which had been put in the summary of the bill. Bearden accuses Lichtenegger of creating a "distorted picture of the proposal." Let's quote the proposed bill and see how close Lichtenegger came to the undistorted numbers. The bill reads:

"(1) One thousand dollars maximum and three hundred dollars minimum for students attending institutions classified as part of the public two-year sector;

"(2) Two thousand one hundred fifty dollars maximum and one thousand dollars minimum for students attending institutions classified as part of the public four-year sector; and

"(3) Four thousand six hundred dollars maximum and two thousand dollars minimum for students attending approved private institutions."

Well. If you go back to the actual Lichtenegger letter, you will see that he quoted the statute exactly giving both the maximum and minimum figures directly from the proposed bill. Lichtenegger has not distorted the picture. The picture just isn't very pretty.

Some people may object to giving any tax money to students who choose to go to private institutions. I do not. I don't believe Lichtenegger does. But I think many people object to giving more than twice as much public money to students attending private colleges.

Bearden has adopted Jetton's approach. When one's hand is caught in the cookie jar, blame the person who mentions it. It pains me to mention this, because Lichtenegger is a prominent and active member of the Republican Party, but the Republican leadership in Jefferson City is adopting a Washington approach to factual criticism.

Also telling is the fact that Bearden has been promoting this same provision for some time. It was in a bill that failed last year. This provision for the benefit of private colleges is Bearden's pet project, even though it is now in a Senate bill. Bearden rightly mentions that those who disagree with this raid on the public treasury will point out that he is on the payroll of a private college as a fund-raiser. He says that helping his employer with public money is not the reason he made this proposal. He says that he doesn't know the financial impact this will have for his employer.

I respectfully suggest that he knows and that we all know. Bearden has resurrected a proposal that directly benefits the private college which employs him. Using public money for private gain. This also fits a sad pattern We have seen in Washington the past several years.

It is time for a change in Jefferson City.

John L. Cook of Cape Girardeau is a lawyer.

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