Gov. promotes A+ program's increased funding, but proposes a cut to overall college financial aid
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Gov. promotes A+ program's increased funding, but proposes a cut to overall college financial aid

Date: February 7, 2011
By: Jordan Shapiro
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - While Missouri's governor has been traveling across the state touting his proposal to boost state funds for a specific higher education scholarship program, total funding for financial aid would be cut by $41 million under the budget plan presented to state lawmakers.

The governor's office confirms that his total budget recommendation for higher education financial aid would drop from $278 million to $239 million.

The proposed budget calls for an $8 million increase in the A+ Scholarship, but a decrease in the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program of $48 million.

Scott Holste, the governor's press secretary, said the increase of one program but the decrease of another is "not a win-lose situation." 

But Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, disagreed.

"I was upset to see Access cut," he said. Thomson said he believes all state-sponsored grant programs to be important.

The A+ Scholarship program allows students to apply for a grant to attend a two-year community college or trade school. To qualify, students must have a 95 percent attendance record, a 2.5 GPA and 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring during high school. The A+ program was designed as an incentive for students not seeking a four-year degree to continue their education at community colleges and trade schools.

The Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program is a need-based program that awards a grant to qualifying students for either a two- or four-year public college or a private college.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said increasing A+ scholarships would be a good thing.

"I like [the idea] of expanding A+ so more students can take advantage of college," she said.

The governor's office said the increase in demand for the A+ program is the reason for the budget increase. Currently, there are 274 participating schools in the state, leaving many without the program.

Included in the proposed $8 million increase to the A+ program is $1 million to increase the program's reach to schools not already designated as A+. Thomson has filed the legislation that would allow students not attending an A+ school to apply for the scholarship, provided they complete the criteria.

"Every good student in Missouri deserves the opportunity to go to college, whether they live in Kansas City or St. Louis, or in a rural county," Nixon said in a news release about Thomson's legislation. 

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, also supports the increase in the A+ budget, calling it "just" because more people could take advantage of the program.

She, however, does not see the rise in demand for the scholarship program as a reason to justify the budget increase.

Nasheed said the proposed A+ requirement changes, such as the inclusion of Algebra 1, could create a 40 percent decrease in applications from St. Louis City.

Holste said in order to "tigthen the belt" on the budget, some programs including Access Misosuri had to be cut.

Still said the cut in the Access Missouri program was justified. She said she was disappointed that twice as much money from the program goes to private schools, rather than public schools.

The governor has also proposed using funding from Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, which provides low-cost loans to the state's college students, to help reduce the budget decrease. The governor has proposed that $30 million from MOHELA be used to bolster funds for the Access Missouri program bringing the program's budget to $59 million.

Will Shaffner, director of business development for MOHELA, said his office has been instructed by its board to identify sources of revenue and begin to set aside money.

Many lawmakers declined to comment on the proposed scholarship budget, saying they need more time to review the materials.