JEFFERSON CITY - Buses filed in and students filed out, carrying signs covered with phrases like “This is not about tuition” and “MIZ – Please Fund Me.”
With more than 150 students gathered outside the Capitol, More for Less took its final stand for the semester Thursday. The movement has responded to Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed budget cuts to higher education with a letter-writing campaign, lobbying efforts in Jefferson City and a march.
“You are here to protect higher education funding,” Missouri Students Association President Xavier Billingsley said to students at the march. “Nixon proposed about a 12.5 percent budget cut to higher education, which is about 25 percent (less funding) over these last three years. That’s something serious.”
After the budget was proposed in Nixon’s State of the State address in January, MSA and the Associated Students of the University of Missouri launched a letter-writing campaign that produced more than 6,000 letters to legislators signed by students and staff. Then, More for Less headed to Jefferson City to deliver the letters and speak directly to representatives and senators.
One of those legislators, Sen. Kurt Schafer, R-Columbia, spoke to More for Less on Thursday on the budget’s process. Schafer said the House and Senate passed a budget earlier this week restoring about $106 million in funding to higher education.
“This has been a rough year,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult budget year, but the shining star of this budget, which I had on the floor of the Senate until about four o’clock in the morning the other night when we passed it, was maintaining flat funding for higher education. In this budget, that is a huge, huge win.”
The budget still has items that need to go to conference, but the House and Senate agreed funding for higher education was non-negotiable, Schafer said.
“It’s done,” he said. “It now goes to the governor.”
With the budget on his desk, Nixon can sign the budget, veto it or withhold funds. Nixon has withheld funding from higher education before, MSA Director of Communications Zach Toombs said.
“There’s some constitutional gray area there,” he said.
The governor’s proposed budget has decreased to a 7.8 percent cut for higher education since January due to Missouri winning a mortgage lawsuit. Of the money won, $40 million was funneled into higher education, but those funds were a one-time fix, Toombs said.
Regardless of Nixon’s decision this year, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-District 24, warned students of continuing threats to higher education funding.
“Funding this year is going to be stable, that’s taken care of, and you know what that is?” he said. “That is a tiny, tiny good thing in a sea of incredibly inappropriate funding.”
Kelly stressed the state’s need to bear responsibility for public education.
“The question you need to ask politicians is, are you for or against tax increases that will change higher education?” he said.
The next step toward maintaining funding for higher education is bringing in more tax revenue, Kelly said. With a higher cigarette tax on the ballot, he urged students to support the increase.
“It will put 250 million more dollars into higher education,” Kelly said. “That’s what we need to be talking about. We don’t need to be talking about whether we can just barely keep our head out of the flood; we need to fix the boat.”
Although Kelly made it clear threats to higher education funding aren’t dead, he and other legislators said students’ advocacy had influenced them.
“I can tell you that your role in the legislative process is making a difference,” Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said.
After students and legislators spoke about issues outside, More for Less entered the Capitol to talk to the legislators who helped create a budget that would postpone cuts to higher education.
“Our message is a message of thanks,” MSA Chief of Staff Steven Dickherber said.