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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Nixon: Education Funding Best Economic Development Tool for State

Jay Nixon addresses MSU officials inside the Plaster Student Union Wednesday

Gov. Jay Nixon Wednesday reiterated his proposal for $34 million in additional funding for higher education during a stop in Springfield. KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports.

The Governor first made the announcement for the performance-based model during last week’s State of the State Address.

Wednesday morning, he congratulated MSU for achieving all five of its performance criteria, which makes the school eligible for an additional $4.3 percent in funding, or $3.3 million.

“This new funding is tied to specific performance goals, like increased student retention, higher graduation rates, improved learning, and efficiency. And friends, under that new model, Missouri State University rose to the challenge,” Nixon said.

MSU is one of eight state colleges and universities to meet all five of its goals. School President Clif Smart says he agrees with the funding formula.  

The Governor says he’s optimistic the state legislature will pass his proposal, considering the support from two and four-year institutions, combined with an improved economy.

“Universities, as well as K-12, have to plan their budgets based on what we do. They have to make decisions based on those. We try to bring certainty and we communicate regularly with the institutions. I’m confident that the additional $34 million is available with our growing economy, and I think the smartest place to invest those dollars in our higher education system is in performance funding,” Nixon said. 

But MSU Political Science Department Head Dr. George Connor says legislative approval could be problematic.

“Constitutional guarantee only applies to K-12, and so higher education shares with all of the other things like prisons and so on. So I think this is going to be a tough battle. And it’s hard to see where this is going to be with respect to the priorities. Expansion of Medicaid is a priority,” Connor says.

Not all schools achieved all their performance goals in the latest grading period, meaning they would receive less funding, according to the Governor’s plan. Schools are each graded on retention and graduation rates, test scores and efficiency. The fifth goal is institution specific. In Missouri State’s case, they’ve chosen to increase the number of graduates with degrees in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as health care.

“That’s a priority of our state. That’s a priority of our university to graduate people who work in those fields because we need those kinds of workers. And so that’s the measure we selected,” President Smart says.

Asked about a study indicating Missouri colleges and universities are underfunded by $400 million, Nixon declined to debate the figures, noting that the study “doesn’t adequately respect or reflect our quality of degrees we're getting in the state of Missouri.”

On Monday, the Governor released $8.5 million in higher education funding thanks to higher than expected state revenue collections. That includes another $793,000 for Missouri State.

Nixon also touched on his endorsement of a bonding program, to be paid for through tax credit reform. Proceeds would allow for renovations and new facilities at higher education institutions, K-12, the Fulton State Mental Hospital, and throughout Missouri’s state parks system.