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Colleges Compete with Schools for Funding

May 16, 2002
By: Matt Williams
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Throughout the state's budget troubles this year, many state leaders pledged to protect education. Gov. Bob Holden repeatedly said education is his No. 1 priority.

But the story of education funding has been a tale of two vastly divergent issues, with elementary and secondary school districts walking away with funding increases and higher education institutions the victim of withholdings and budget cuts.

The issue for local schools was not whether there would be an increase, but how much. For colleges, the debate was not whether there would be a cut, but how bad.

In the budget approved May 10, spending for elementary and secondary education increased almost 5 percent while funding for most colleges was cut by at least 10 percent.

Additionally, Holden announced last week that he would withhold $83 million from colleges to help cover a revenue shortfall in this fiscal year while saying he would spare local school districts.

Holden spokesman Chris Kelly said Holden doesn't enjoy making cuts college funding, but said it was necessary to fulfill the state's mission to fund schools.

"This hasn't been fun," Kelly said. "He doesn't want to cut higher education."

Kelly said Holden's first priority is to promote local schools, because it serves all of the state's children.

"We have to establish a base for these kids," Kelly said.

The push to fund an increase for education has put pressure on budget negotiators to cut other parts of the budget. Sen. David Klarich, R-St. Louis County, noted that some programs are being cut by as much as 25 percent to fund the foundation formula.

"They are faring pretty well in this economy," he said.

Columbia Rep. Chuck Graham, who heads the committee that handles the budget for both local schools and colleges, said support for higher education has always been "lukewarm."

Over time, this had led to bigger increases for local schools as opposed to colleges. In the past decade, funding for lower education increased 89 percent, while university funding increased by 67 percent.

Graham said lawmakers tend to take care of the college in their area, sometimes at the expense of other schools. However, local school districts are funded collectively, meaning lawmakers must band together to increase funds, he said.

For local schools "there is a formula that everyone sticks together and fights for. The more money you get in the formula, the more money everybody gets," Graham said. "It doesn't work like that for higher education."

With limited state resources, higher education is competing more with social services more than with local schools for available money, Graham said.