Many words have been used across Missouri this year to describe House Bill 253, the tax-reform legislation vetoed June 5 by Gov. Jay Nixon and currently awaiting a possible Statehouse override. The word we will use is “tragic.”
It’s tragic that, once again, our tuition is under threat of being raised by double-digit percentages, in addition to the new possibility of textbooks losing tax-exempt status. It’s tragic that K-12 education, arguably the most worthwhile investment our government makes, could see cuts in the hundreds of millions of dollars if Nixon’s veto is overridden.
It’s tragic that, regardless of how loud we shout, there seems to always be a fight against education in Jefferson City — to raise college tuition which is already unreasonably high, to provide strained K-12 teachers with even fewer resources, to deprioritize the building of a strong foundation for the next generation.
It’s tragic that complex legislation like this, with flaws and benefits and drawbacks and side effects and obstacles and uncertainties, is melted down, bottled and sold to the public as a deceptively simple battle — “do you want lower taxes or higher taxes?” — and that such reductive populist rhetoric is always pushed, no matter what potential damage it might cause and no matter what realities it ignores. It’s tragic that doing so attracts political attention whores du jour (in this case, Texas Gov. Rick Perry) to swoop in like vultures, mindlessly promoting what would be a catastrophic defeat for Missouri students and parents (in other words, most Missourians) and trying to swipe Missouri jobs in the process.
Make no mistake: HB253 was and remains a tragedy. Missouri is already near the bottom ranks of the United States in education funding, according to the National Education Association, and the estimated $800 million in lost revenue the bill would cause could easily deepen that disadvantage.
The furor over the legislation has done much to obfuscate its real stakeholders. It doesn’t affect Rick Perry. It doesn’t affect national politics. It does — let us be clear — affect you, student of the University of Missouri. It does affect every child who attends Missouri public schools. It does affect every Missouri citizen who uses public services.
If the loss in revenue forces budget cuts to education, our tuition could rise by 8-16 percent, according to Missouri Students Association President Nick Droege. Over the course of (hopefully only) four years at MU, that accumulates to several thousands of dollars more. Textbooks losing tax-exempt status would accumulate to several hundred dollars more during a college career. For most students, finding the extra money would be a great burden; for many, a game-changer; and for some, this would certainly be a closed door. How many low-income students would no longer be able to afford an MU education if HB253 does its damage? How many of the opportunities and discoveries and revelations we cherish in college would never occur?
For this reason, we see a huge imperative to act. Fortunately, MSA and ASUM (the Associated Students of the University of Missouri) are doing so.
On Thursday, Sept. 5, the groups will hold a joint rally called Kill the Bill at 5 p.m. in the MU Student Center. UM President Tim Wolfe, Chancellor Brady Deaton and Droege are among those scheduled to speak. The event promises to be impactful, but it won’t be enough.
Just as with MSA’s wildly successful More For Less campaign in spring 2012, which culminated with more than 150 students marching at the state Capitol and more than 6,000 letters from students and staff being sent to lawmakers, we as a student body have the potential and the opportunity to ensure education remains a priority in Jefferson City and to keep budget cuts from gutting our university.
There is the very real possibility of this rally and whatever else can come from it to have a tangible impact. Not only could a well-organized campaign of passionate students convince enough state lawmakers to oppose a veto override on HB253, it could remind them of the importance of education. So the next time someone like Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Kearney, brings a bill to the Statehouse that jeopardizes public education funding in the name of “lower taxes,” he might consider the full impact of passing such harmful legislation.
It’s not wishful thinking. It has been successful before, and it can be successful again. But it will take the hard work and activism of dedicated students — us — to stop HB253 from wreaking its tragic damage on our state.
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