May 7, 2010

State relations

Access scholarship bill poised to pass in final week of session

Legislation that would equalize state needs-based scholarship awards for students attending public and private institutions is poised to pass in the final week of the legislative session.  SB733, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), was approved by both the House and the Senate and has been sent to a joint conference committee to resolve the differences and finalize the bill.

The bill began in the Senate as a plan to clarify award allocations for the state’s merit-based Bright Flight scholarships. The University of Missouri System sought changes to ensure that when full funding for the scholarship is not available, the Department of Higher Education would award up to $3,000 to students in the top three percent of standardized test takers. Those in the fourth and fifth percentiles of test takers then could receive up to $1,000 in awards, should additional funds be available. It also clarified eligibility for those called into military service and the time frame to be used in determining the top percentage of test takers.

In the House, SB733 was amended to incorporate the Access Missouri Scholarship agreement that emerged from meetings between public and private school leaders. Currently, eligible students at private institutions may receive up to $4,600 per year, while students at public four-year institutions are limited to annual awards of $2,150, and students at public two-year institutions are limited to $1,000. Under SB733, beginning in the fall of 2014, eligible students at both public and private four-year institutions would receive up to $2,850, and students at two-year institutions would receive up to $1,300.

The latest version of the bill also eliminates the program’s sunset provision and includes a plan to lower the required grade point average for scholarship renewals from 2.5 to 2.0 for the first 60 credit hours. The House version also incorporates language for public higher education institutions that helps foster joint partnerships to commercialize research.

A conference committee composed of five senators and five representatives has been named to approve a compromise version. Final passage is required by 6 p.m., Fri., May 14.

In related news, another House bill containing the language about the required GPA for renewal and the Access Missouri Scholarship agreement was taken up and passed by the Senate Education Committee May 5. HB1473, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville), includes the same provisions as SB733, with the exception of the Bright Flight language.

House Higher Education Committee hears resolutions related to higher education governance

Plans to place measures on the statewide ballot to eliminate the Department of Higher Education and combine the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the state Board of Education were heard in the House Higher Education Committee meeting this week. The Senate passed SJR44 and SJR45, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph). The bills now must be approved in the same format by the House before they can be placed on the ballot.

Committee members had many questions about the concept and heard testimony in support from Sen. Shields, as well as from the Department of Higher Education and Mike Nietzel, special advisor to the governor for higher education issues. Several organizations also testified in opposition to the plan and for informational purposes only.

The committee did not vote, but plans to reconvene May 11 to consider possible changes to the bills. The University of Missouri System did not testify on the bills; however, UM System President Gary Forsee did send a letter to committee members.

Spinal Cord Injury bill nearing approval

The House passed SB987, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) and carried in the House by Rep. Steve Hobbs (R-Mexico), with a few amendments. The bill would increase the award amount for spinal cord injury research from $50,000, which is often not enough to support a research project, to $250,000. The House also added a provision that would apply certain life sciences research restrictions to spinal cord injury research. In addition, an emergency clause was adopted for economic development provisions that were added to the bill by a House committee.

Sen. Stouffer requested that the House recede from its version of the bill and pass the Senate version, which only increased the award amount. If the House does not recede, the final version will be decided by a conference committee of House and Senate members. All bills must be agreed to and passed by 6 p.m., Fri., May 14.

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