Friday, March 13, 2015
House Republicans provide budget highlights
After more than six hours of debate Tuesday and several more hours Thursday, the Missouri House gave its stamp of approval to the 13 appropriations bills that make up the state operating budget for Fiscal Year 2016. Checking in at slightly more than $26.1 billion, the state spending plan that will begin in July of this year boosts funding for several vital state programs including our systems of K-12 and higher education, and services to some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. In many cases, we were able to increase funding beyond what the governor recommended in his budget proposal he submitted in January. Some highlights of the budget work completed this week are listed below:
· $74.2 million increase for Foundation Formula that provides funding for our K-12 public schools;
· $5 million increase for Early Childhood Special Education;
· Nearly $2.5 million in new funding for the Parents as Teachers program;
· $12 million increase for performance funding for Missouri’s public institutions of higher education;
· $6 million increase for equity funding for Missouri’s two-year colleges;
· $2 million increase for the A+ schools program;
· $1 million increase for autism regional projects;
· $13.7 million in funding for the Show-Me Healthy Babies program;
· $7.2 million appropriated for the MOST intervention model for children who are trauma victims;
· $16.3 million in funding for MoHealthnet adult dental benefits
The House version of the budget also restores funding to several programs that were targeted for core reductions by the governor. These include:
-Elks mobile dental program - $200,000 restored
· Brain injury waiver services - $350,000 restored
· Area Health Education Centers - $250,000 restored
· Newborn screenings - $191,400 restored
· Area Agencies on Aging - Meals on Wheels - $400,000 restored
· Alzheimer’s grants - $50,000 restored
· Community Health Access Programs - $1 million restored
· Medical and Behavioral health homes for foster kids - $250,000 restored
· Asthma-related services - $400,000 restored
· Regional care coordination - $200,000 restored
· Utilicare funding - $4 million restored
· Victims of sexual violence services - $500,000 restored
· Social innovation grants - $1 million restored
These are just a few of the highlights of the balanced, fiscally responsible budget that is now on its way to the Missouri Senate. We will likely see changes made in the other chamber as they move the 13 appropriations bills through a process similar to the one they underwent in the House. Any changes made in the Senate will have to be approved, or negotiated in conference committees, before the budget is finalized and sent to the governor for approval.
HB 458—While budget discussion took up most of our time this week, we also were able to debate and give first-round approval to legislation designed to promote a safer environment for students in our K-12 public schools. The bill would require our school districts to strengthen their policies against bullying. Some of the provisions in the bill would take steps like requiring schools to establish a procedure for reporting and promptly investigating acts of bullying, as well as adding the definition of “cyberbullying” in an effort to stop some of the bullying that occurs through social media and text messages.
We realize this legislation won’t put a stop to bullying in our schools, but we do believe it is a positive step towards promoting a safer, more stable environment for our young people. The need for such steps was emphasized just a few weeks ago when a 12-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome was bullied and beaten while at Liberty Middle School near Kansas City. The boy, whose older brother had also been the subject of attacks by the same bully, ended up with a broken jaw and fractured skull. This tragic story is a reminder that bullying does happen in our schools, and sometimes results in serious physical injury.
It may not be possible to prevent bullying or stop bad behavior, but we are committed as a legislative body to doing what we can to deter these kinds of acts in order to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. The bill, which is a positive step towards that goal, now requires one more affirmative vote in the House before moving to the Senate.