JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- While House Republicans trumpeted their efforts to increase funding for elementary and secondary education this week, chamber Democrats complained that similar attention hasn't been paid to higher education.
The state budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that cleared the House on Wednesday includes $4.75 billion for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a $201.7 million boost from current appropriations. However, the House plan basically would hold funding for the Department of Higher Education steady at about $1 billion.
The amount the House would allocate to DESE exceeds Holden's fiscal year 2005 request by $40.2 million -- roughly the same amount by which the chamber fell short of the governor's recommendation for higher education.
"We have to take things in order of priority, and elementary and secondary education funding is our highest priority," said House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods. "It is the foundation upon which higher education is built."
Since the state began experiencing financial problems in FY 2002, higher education has endured substantial cuts. At the same time, DESE saw its funding continue to grow until midway through FY 2003, when Holden was forced to order reductions to keep the state budget in balance.
Southeast Missouri State University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said building and maintaining a strong educational system requires attention to all of its components. Like overall higher education spending, Southeast's state appropriation would remain roughly the same as this year's at $42.9 million.
Both ends of the spectrum
"Obviously, a flat budget for higher education is better than a budget that is cut," Dobbins said. "But I think we need to look at both ends of the spectrum -- K through 16 instead of just K through 12."
In the last four years, tuition for a Missouri resident attending one of the state's 13 four-year institutions has increased an average 41.4 percent. At Southeast, tuition for the current school year is up 35 percent from the 2000-2001 term.
During House debate on the budget, House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said the governing boards of some state schools, particularly the University of Missouri system, have hiked tuition far in excess of the amounts needed to offset reductions in state subsidies.
Dobbins said the operating expenses of institutions continue to grow even when state funding is stagnant. Even so, he said Southeast hasn't passed on to students all of the costs of declining state financial support.
A senior attending Southeast currently pays $4,575 in annual tuition, which accounts for 43.9 percent of the actual cost of his or her education. As a freshman, that student paid $3,390 a year in tuition, which amounted to 33.1 percent of the actual cost.
House Budget chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said students should bear more personal responsibility in paying for a college education and not rely heavily on state subsidies.