JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate endorsed a budget plan Monday that ensures a funding increase for public education but will require negotiations with the House to hammer out the final specifics.
The plan provides a larger funding increase to public colleges and universities than the version approved by the House earlier this year, though it has a slightly smaller increase to public K-12 school districts. Those differences are among the many variations that will have to be resolved by House and Senate negotiators before a May 9 deadline to pass a final version of the 2015 budget.
The $26.8 billion budget in front of the Republican-led Legislature is about $900 million lighter than Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon recommended in January, largely because lawmakers have rejected his recommendations to tap into billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 300,000 lower-income adults.
Unlike most years, legislators also disagreed with Nixon on the how much tax revenue Missouri is likely to receive. As a result, both the House and Senate have adopted a two-tier budget plan that includes a minimum amount for public schools, based on their legislative revenue projections, and a maximum amount based on Nixon's more optimistic projections.
The Senate budget adds $115 million to Missouri's $3.1 billion in basic aid to public schools — "an extraordinary increase" according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. It's a little bit less than the $122 million increase in basic school aid approved by the House. Both chambers would allow schools to get up to a $278 million increase if revenues meet Nixon's projections.
The Senate plan would provide a 5 percent increase to public colleges and universities. The House budget proposed a 3 percent increase for higher education, with part of that dependent upon Nixon's higher revenue forecasts. The Senate budget plan, however, includes a smaller funding increase for the state's main college scholarship program.
Both budget plans seek to prevent public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to students living in the U.S. illegally. Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, sought to remove that wording, but her amendment was defeated Monday on a party-line vote.
"These are kids who did not make a decision to come to this country illegally, they did not make a decision to stay in this country illegally," Justus said. "They have lived in this country their whole lives, they have graduated — some of them very successfully— from Missouri high schools."
But Schaefer said the prohibition on in-state tuition for students who aren't U.S. citizens is a matter of fairness. He noted that U.S. citizens who live in other states also cannot get in-state tuition at Missouri institutions.
Senators approved an amendment Monday by Democratic Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, of St. Louis, that attempts to cut an amount equal to the salary of state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro. Chappelle-Nadal said she was frustrated with Nicastro's leadership and wanted to make a point. Senators acknowledged the money could be restored during negotiations with the House.
Aside from education, the House and Senate budget plans both include a 1 percent pay raise for state employees.
Unlike the House plan, the Senate version of the operating budget includes money for a couple of construction projects. It budgets $198 million for new mental health facilities at the Fulton State Hospital and $33 million for a new building at The State Historical Society of Missouri, which is located at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
House members also have expressed support for improvements at the Fulton State Hospital, but the two chambers have yet to agree on how it should be funded.