Missouri House panel OKs budget plan with more money for K-12 schools, college scholarships



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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — A Missouri House panel has added money for K-12 schools and higher education to next year's budget, including restoring $12 million for colleges and universities that Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon had recommended but which had been left out of previous proposals.

A House budget committee — the last stop for budget proposals before they head to the full House — approved a series of spending bills Tuesday night, including the additional education money and restrictions on funds for commissioners and the governor to fly on state planes.

Missouri's 2016 budget year starts July 1.

An earlier draft of the legislative budget plan had dropped Nixon's recommended $12 million increase for higher education.

But House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan, a Republican from Carthage, received committee approval Tuesday to amend that back into the spending measures. Typically, the committee requires amendments increasing spending to be offset with cuts elsewhere. No cut was paired with the $12 million more for higher education, and Flanigan said the money was "taken off the bottom line."

Representatives also found an additional $4.2 million for basic K-12 school aid by cutting dues for the state's membership to a testing group aligned with the national Common Core education standards.

Those standards have become divisive in national politics, drawing criticism from parents, conservatives and others who say they were adopted by states without enough local input.

A Cole County Circuit Court judge last week ruled Missouri's membership to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium for Common Core was unconstitutional, prompting promises from House leaders to strip funding from the budget for membership to that testing group.

Other budget changes made by the committee include banning state money from being used to fly conservation and transportation commissioners around the state for meetings, as well as scaling back the amount of money available to pay for Nixon to fly on state planes.

Democrat Rep. Genise Montecillo, of St. Louis, criticized the use of taxpayer money for Nixon's flights, particularly a trip to St. Louis on Thanksgiving week.

A grand jury, also that week, decided not to indict former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown. Montecillo questioned whether Nixon made himself available to local leaders while he was in the area, although Nixon's spokesman Scott Holste said the governor spent much of that time at a police command post near Ferguson.

Other notable changes include a provision that would prevent state colleges and universities from giving scholarships or in-state tuition to students with "an unlawful immigration status."


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