May 21, 2012

2012 legislative session concludes, 50/50 Capital funding match bill passes

The Second Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly came to a close at 6pm, Friday, May 18, after a week that included passage of several higher education bills. A highlight was the passage of legislation creating a capital improvement matching fund. Provisions that were originally contained in SB 655, sponsored by Sen. Tim Green (D-St. Louis), were truly agreed to and finally passed on May 16 as part of an omnibus higher education bill.  Senate Bill 563, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield), was amended with various higher education provisions in the House, with which the Senate concurred.  The provisions included in the bill from SB 655 will create a higher education capital fund in which the state may appropriate up to 50 percent of the cost of a capital project when a higher education institution raises 50 percent of the cost through private means.

The initiative was a high priority for the University of Missouri as a tool to help campuses raise private support for future building needs.

Omnibus higher education bills include STEM, other initiatives

The General Assembly passed several omnibus higher education bills in the final days of the legislative session, including a plan to establish a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiative in the Department of Higher Education.

The STEM initiative was the idea of the University of Missouri System and was introduced in the past two legislative sessions as a way to encourage more students pursue STEM fields. It was passed as part of SB 563, but was also introduced as a stand alone bill by Rep. Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau). Under the plan, the state could provide matching funds for endowed teaching professorships, scholarships, experiential youth programs for elementary, middle and high school students, and career enhancement programs for STEM teachers.

SB 563, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) is an omnibus bill that also included an authorization for statutory increases in the grant levels for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program administered by UM; a new certification level for students going into school social work that was supported by UM; the license plate fix to keep the University of Kansas from offering Missouri collegiate plates; the 50-50 state capital match program for higher education capital improvements; and a new program in the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center operated by MU Extension to develop a virtual network for entrepreneurs.

Lawmakers also sent the Governor HB 1042, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville) that calls on public institutions to develop a library of 25 lower division courses that would transfer among colleges and universities. It also calls for improvements in remedial education programs and development of reverse transfer guidelines. A similar bill was filed in the Senate by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg).

Extension districting option legislation thwarted in Senate

The University’s plans to provide MU Extension with statutory authority to create single- or multi-county funding districts was stalled in the Senate after two term-limited Senators raised concerns about the proposal and threatened to block any legislation that included the plan. Sen. Tim Green (D-St. Louis) and Sen. Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau) engaged in a discussion on the Senate floor earlier this month on an amendment by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) to include the plan in a larger bill under consideration.

The proposal had received widespread support in the House of Representatives as part of two larger agriculture-related bills, and received unanimous support from the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier in the session.  University and Extension leaders plan to return next session with the legislation.

The bill is designed to give counties the option of forming districts to gain resources to provide local Extension programming across county lines, and would also enable them to place property tax levies on the local ballot to support Extension efforts.  The plan is modeled after similar versions in place in 26 other states.

The original bills filed this year to provide the authority are SB 865, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), and HB 1895, sponsored by Rep. Tom Loehner (R-Koeltztown).

Lawmakers quickly pass bill to prohibit Missouri collegiate license plates for out of state institutions.

When word came to the Capitol that a University of Kansas alumni organization was working through the administrative process to sell KU Jayhawk-themed Missouri collegiate license plates, lawmakers sprang into action and drafted language to prohibit the plates in Missouri. The language was incorporated by Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia)  into a larger omnibus higher education bill, SB 563, that passed the Senate and House with no dissenting votes.  Sens. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) led the charge to develop and approve the language in the Senate. The bill is now on the Governor’s desk.

Previously, any group could go through an administrative process to develop and offer the plates without approval of the House and Senate. The new language would require legislative approval in the case of any collegiate-themed plates. It also requires that the legislature approve the plate proposal in the same legislative year that a group applies for the plates, which would make it impossible for the KU plates to be authorized this year.

Lawmakers send Governor charter school legislation that includes UM priorities

After several years of development, lawmakers approved legislation to expand charter schools in Missouri and improve oversight and accountability for the schools.  SB 576, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton), includes many provisions designed to address growing problems with education, particularly in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.

Charter schools have been allowed in St. Louis and Kansas City to provide an alternative to failing public schools and bring together education provider organizations, sponsoring public universities which are typically colleges of education, and a local board of parents and community leaders to provide publicly-funded elementary and secondary education.  The new legislation allows charter schools to be established in any unaccredited school district in the state and expands who may sponsor the schools to include local school boards, special administrative boards established by the state Board of Education, community colleges, and the Missouri Charter Public School Commission which is created in the bill.

The University of Missouri System’s campuses in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Rolla have been sponsors of charter schools in their respective cities.  Several of these schools have been successful, but others have experienced challenges that have led to the University revoking charters and facing legal issues with the outside education providers. The new legislation clarifies responsibilities of both sponsors and education providers, and protects sponsors from legal challenges from outside providers in situations where charters are revoked.  

Administrators who oversee charter school operations for UM campuses have been engaged in the development of many of the provisions of SB 576 and supported the legislation as it moved through the process.

Congressman Graves speaks at CAFNR graduation

Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO) was the featured speaker at the MU School of Natural Resources and College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) graduation ceremony on May 12th. CAFNR graduated 378 students during the ceremony. Congressman Graves is an alumnus of the college, with degree in Agronomy.

Above: Congressman Graves during his commencement speech to MU’s CAFNR graduates. Photo is courtesy of Grad Images.
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