JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri System president's October call to the state to provide matching funds for science, technology, engineering and math programs was heard Wednesday, but something was lost in the translation.
UM System President Gary Forsee testified before the Senate Education Committee in support of a bill that would establish the Missouri Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Initiative and create a fund to process donations supporting the program. But under the terms of the proposed bill, the state would not be obligated to provide matching funds for these donations.
Forsee outlined five goals of the initiative as to:
The state could match private donations to support the initiative, but that money would have to be approved by legislators and the governor through the appropriations process.
Forsee said the state's budget situation would likely preclude state support in the near future.
Gov. Jay Nixon began meetings with legislators Tuesday to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the fiscal year 2011 budget and the budget for fiscal year 2012 will have a nearly $1 billion hole when federal stabilization funds expire.
But the bill's sponsor, committee chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the bill is important for the message it sends.
"I think more than anything else it shows, if it passes, it shows that the state is very serious, that it is a priority of ours," he said.
He said he thinks this would encourage private donations and he is optimistic about the bill's success.
Forsee gave the committee background about Missouri's position in these academic areas.
He said Missouri ranks in the lowest 25 percent of all states in awarding college degrees in these areas and Missouri's fourth graders rank in the bottom third nationally in math skills.
"It's not acceptable that our state and certainly the country continues to slip further behind in the METS (Math, Engineering, Technology and Science) areas," he said.
These jobs are important for the state's economic development, he said.
"The jobs that we think about the future of economic growth in our state will tend to be around engineering, math, science skills," Forsee said.
Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, expressed concern that the funds could support foreign students, who make up a large percentage of graduate students in these fields.
Forsee replied that the aim of the program would be to keep graduates in the state of Missouri and that financial support could be provided with the stipulation that recipients remain in the state for a certain period of time after graduation.