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Sunday, September 24, 2017

MSA and ASUM lobby against higher education funding cuts

The campaign held meetings with several senators to discuss Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed cuts to higher education.

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Members of the More for Less campaign talk to Sen. Kurt Schafer about the state of funding for higher education. Missouri Students Association Communications Director Zach Toombs described Schafer as the movement's "biggest voice" in Jefferson City.

Molly Duffy/Photographer

Student voices got a little louder Tuesday when the More for Less campaign headed to the Capitol.

MSA Senators, cabinet members, volunteers and the Associated Students of the University of Missouri headed to Jefferson City to speak directly to several senators and representatives about the higher education budget.

Since More for Less began, Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget cuts to higher education have been reduced. The budget originally cut 12.5 percent of funds for higher education, but the proposal now stands at a 7.5 percent cut. More for Less is still looking for more permanent funds.

“Next year, they’re going to be starting at that 12.5 percent level because this $40 million is for this year,” MSA Chief of Staff Steven Dickherber said. “Next year, where are they going to get that $40 million?”

Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-District 38, has proposed a balanced budget that would allow higher education more funding than the governor has allocated. Sen. Kurt Schafer, R-District 19, who met with the campaign, said the governor won’t sign the budget even if the General Assembly approves it, effectively withholding available funds to higher education.

Schafer said constitutionally, Nixon does not have the authority to withhold funds.

“Somebody needs to ask him, ‘Why the hell do you think you have the ability to do this?’” Schafer said.

The student outrage about cuts and the $40 million that was found for education was no coincidence, Schafer said.

“They had no intention of doing that,” he said. “I am convinced that it’s the pressure that came mostly from students. He came up with those cuts because he’s been cutting higher education (in previous years). But the thing is, it’s never been a liability for him.”

More for Less is simply looking to pass the General Assembly’s budget right now, Dickherber said. Dickherber is a former Maneater staff member.

“Our goal isn’t so much to stop legislators, senators or representatives,” he said. “It’s our goal to say, ‘Gov. Nixon, you need to sign this. Withholding’s not legal.’ I mean really, it’s unconstitutional. Our goal is to kind of put pressure on him.”

Nixon has also made it difficult for schools to make up federal funding. Raising tuition above the consumer price index requires a waiver from the Commissioner of Higher Education, Schafer said. Last year, the Commissioner granted schools that waiver, but Nixon didn’t approve of it. This year, tuition was not raised above CPI, and the governor is still threatening to withhold funds.

“They raised it, and Nixon said, ‘I told you not to raise tuition,’” Schafer said. “He doesn’t have that authority. I think the question is, and I think that the question for students should be, ‘If the General Assembly finds extra money for higher (education), are you going to let higher (education) keep it? And if not, why not?’”

Silvey’s flat budget for higher education cuts from various health services, including the blind. His bill has yet to be voted on.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-District 24, who is against the cuts to higher education, said he doesn’t expect Silvey’s bill to last.

“Even I, who would be comfortable robbing a stagecoach, am uncomfortable cutting the blind,” he said.

Kelly said there is still time to tweak the budget, though.

“We’re still alive,” he said.

Although higher education is facing cuts this year and is likely to in the future, Schafer said students have been affecting legislators’ decisions, even Nixon’s.

Schafer said Nixon’s decision to restore some funds to education is an indication of More for Less’ progress.

“Once he makes his mind up on something, he does not back up, hardly ever,” he said.

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