Missouri State Legislative Priorities
Charge In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students
The League urges all members of the legislature to oppose any attempts to insert language regarding citizenship or immigration status into the higher education budget bill. Each year, students in Missouri graduate from high school with the intention to enroll in, attend, and graduate from college. For some Missouri students, these dreams are cruelly out of reach. In the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 legislative sessions, language was added to the preamble of the higher education budget that states that undocumented students are to be charged out-of-state or international tuition rates. In the 2019 legislative session, the language was briefly removed, only to be quickly returned. Despite having grown up in the United States, and attending and graduating from K-12 Missouri schools, Missouri students are being charged an unfairly inflated rate of tuition at public institutions of higher education.
Increase Access Missouri
Access Missouri is the state’s only need-based scholarship program, now serving over 40,000 students. The state’s largest financial aid program, Access Missouri has been consistently underfunded. Over time, student awards remained flat, and current awards fall far short of the statutory maximum of $2,850. The total budget for the program has declined from $92 million in 2009 to $62 million just last year. Investing in Access Missouri is an investment in students with proven financial need. Students with significant financial need may not be able to afford to attend college without state aid. Missouri’s scholarship dollars are limited and should be prioritized towards students who truly need them.
Reform the A+ Scholarship to Support Low-Income Students
At present, the A+ Scholarship is constructed so that students must spend their federal Pell Grant first, preventing Missouri’s lowest-income students from utilizing the A+ dollars they earned. Because there is no income or financial need consideration in the awarding of the scholarship, students from families earning well over $100,000 annually are using the A+ scholarship to go to school for free. Making A+ a first-dollar scholarship and adding an income/need requirement on the awards will enable the state’s low-income students to receive the “free community college” benefit they earned and enable them to save their Pell Grant funds for a four-year degree.
Defer Increases to the Bright Flight Program
Bright Flight disproportionately benefits students attending schools in suburban and wealthy, urban schools. By utilizing a single measure, ACT and SAT scores, Bright Flight’s selection criteria overlook promising students from low-income and lesser-resourced rural and urban districts. Missouri’s average ACT score is 21.5, yet this scholarship requires a 31 or above.
Reject Efforts to Make FAFSA Completion a High School Graduation Requirement
FAFSA completion is not relevant to and should not be required for a high school diploma. Requiring FAFSA completion (or parental waiver) for high school graduation may have a wide variety of likely unintended consequences:
- Reducing Missouri’s commendable high school graduation rate;
- Violating the letter or spirit of the law that requires that K-12 public schooling be provided regardless of citizenship status (and prohibiting districts from requiring or collecting citizenship information); and,
- Further jeopardizing the future of young people whose parents are uncooperative or whose whereabouts are unknown (and who are already vulnerable financially and emotionally).
Federal Legislative Priorities
Boost Pell Grant Funding: Indexing and Keeping Dollars Where They’re Needed
The Pell Grant enables hundreds of thousands of low-income students to afford college each year. During the 2018-2019 year, 123, 581 Missouri students received a Pell Grant, more students than any other federal financial aid grant program. However, the Pell Grant has significantly lost its spending power over time. To prevent further decline in spending power, policymakers should:
- Direct that carryover funds be applied to increase grant awards for the subsequent year;
- Index the Pell award to inflation in any legislation proposed as part of the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act; and,
- Fund the Pell Grant with mandatory, not discretionary, funding.
Assure Passage of a Clean Dream Act
Congress must act swiftly to assure passage of a clean DREAM Act in order to protect undocumented young people from deportation and provide an opportunity for continued education and work permits. A conservative estimate of the individuals in Missouri attending school or working with approval under DACA is 3,500. It is critical that we protect them.