JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to a $30 billion state spending plan with a slight increase for higher education and more money for K-12 public schools following a fight over college tuition for students living in the U.S. illegally.
The budget package includes an additional $61 million in core K-12 public school funding, and colleges and universities are set to get at least $1 million more compared to this year.
Lawmakers ditched Gov. Mike Parson’s original plan to borrow $350 million to fix 250 bridges across the state. Instead, they agreed to spend $50 million in un-earmarked general revenue on bridge repairs next fiscal year, plus another $50 million for a local cost-share program.
If the state gets a federal infrastructure grant to help pay to fix an Interstate 70 bridge in the mid-Missouri city of Rocheport, that would kick in another roughly $300 million in bonding under another pending proposal.
The budget now heads to Parson.
Lawmakers finished the budget before their Friday deadline despite a heated dispute over whether to allow colleges and universities to charge in-state tuition to students living in the U.S. illegally.
Missouri lawmakers put restrictions on the use of state dollars for tuition discounts for students “with an unlawful immigration status” in 2015. Because of that, schools face losing state funding if they offer those students anything less than the tuition rate charged to international students.
Members of a 10-person panel of bipartisan negotiators this week agreed to end that policy. But the move spurred outrage among House Republicans, who voted it down on the House floor.
“We only have so much money to allocate to state subsidies for higher education,” Springfield Republican Rep. Curtis Trent said. “Why should that not go to the people who live here, who pay taxes here, who have followed the rules and obeyed the laws of the land?”
Missouri is one of six states that blocks in-state tuition for students living in the country illegally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . Actions by lawmakers in 16 states allow in-state tuition, and five more states provide for that through state university systems.
The proposed budget still includes a ban on colleges providing scholarships to students living in the country illegally.
Democrats slammed the provisions against immigrants.
Columbia Democratic Rep. Kip Kendrick told colleagues during debate on the House floor that he once had to inform a single parent working two part-time jobs that she would have to pay international tuition and she “started bawling, because she understood that higher education, a way out of poverty, was unattainable.”
“It broke my heart, because this is a person that’s done everything we ask of anyone: pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, working hard (and) really trying to become the best person that she can be,” he said. “She was brought to this country when she was 1-year-old by her parents. That was not a decision of her own.”