Jefferson City: The fate of several higher education initiatives rests in the hands of the Missouri legislature with three weeks to go in the legislative session.

Members of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE) learned the status of legislation to support institutions of higher education at their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, April 23. They also got an update on a legislative proposal to allow students 21 and over to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Proposed legislation and current status include:

Concealed/carry : Many college and university presidents have openly opposed this measure, sponsored by Rep. Brian Munzlinger (R-Williamstown), which passed the House of Representatives and is being considered by the Senate. The legislation is supported by the National Rifle Association and passed in the House 106 - 41.

Zora AuBuchon, legal counsel for the Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE), says the proposed legislation is of grave concern to college and university administrators. They feel that, in spite of the bill?s intention, it would make their campuses less safe, not more, AuBuchon said.

Caring for Missourians (CFM) : The states public colleges and universities have identified CFM as a funding priority for the second year in a row. It would use $39.8 million to educate 1,006 new graduates in health care fields to address shortages of nurses, therapists, pharmacists, dentists and others.

If implemented, CFM would have an economic impact of more than $53 million of personal income alone, based on the annual median income from just one graduating class. The House of Representatives has included $10 million in one-time funding for CFM in House Bill 20.

Partial funding with one-time money will not allow institutions to truly address the shortage of health care workers, according to Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of higher education. Missouri ranks 41st in the nation in health care provided to our citizens, Wagner said, but colleges and universities won?t be able to commit to producing the needed new workers with this proposal.

HJR 32 : This House Joint Resolution, sponsored by representatives Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) and Steven Tilley (R-Perryville), would create the Fifth State Building Fund as a mechanism for issuing $700 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the top building priorities of Missouris public colleges and universities. The joint resolution passed the House, and has been sent to the Senate. A Senate hearing on HJR 32 is scheduled for Monday at 1 p.m. in the Capitol.

Wagner says an added incentive to pass HJR 32 is the ability to use stimulus funds to pay 35 percent of the interest on the bonds. Its a good time to issue construction bonds, Wagner said. The legislature should pass the measure in order to let the voters decide.

P-20 expansion : Senate Bill 291, an omnibus education bill, currently contains a provision that would expand the P-20 Council to include a representative from the Coordinating Board for Early Childhood. The council was established by statute in 2006 to unite pre-school (P) through college (-20) educators with economic development leaders to improve the continuum of education and prepare the future workforce.

Diploma mills -- Sen. Matt Bartle (R-Jackson County) introduced a bill to prohibit the use of false or misleading documents to obtain employment or college admission in Missouri. The measure would bar unqualified individuals from entering professions and institutions under false pretenses. This measure was added to SB 291, the omnibus education bill.

Commissioner of Higher Education Robert B. Stein says most people work hard to obtain degrees. The use of these fabricated documents hurts everyone, but especially those who took the time and effort to qualify for a legitimate degree, Stein says.

Bright Flight scholarships : The Missouri Department of Higher Education promoted a clarification of a recently enacted change (SB 389) to the scholarships for high-achieving high school students to increase awards from $2,000 to $4,000 for high school seniors who score among the top three percent of ACT and SAT test takers. This legislation would also extend the time that military service personnel who qualified for Bright Flight could access the scholarship after high school graduation.

Longer military deployments for service men and women prompted the change request. The Bright Flight provision is included in SB 291, the omnibus education bill.

The next regular meeting of the CBHE will be June 10-11 in West Plains.

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