legislative mess

Led by members of Student Senate and organized particularly by the senate’s Governmental Affairs Committee, a group of Northwest students traveled to Jefferson City, Missouri, Feb. 4-5 to lobby state lawmakers to increase funding allocated to higher education funding.

The group made the well-intentioned trip to the capitol in hopes of lobbying for much-needed change. Instead, they were met with indifference, or perhaps more accurately, they weren’t met at all.

After spending Feb. 4 touring capitol facilities and Jefferson City landmarks, preparing for a day full of lobbying Feb. 5, the group was told Tuesday afternoon the legislative session scheduled for Wednesday had been canceled, due, at least in part, to inclement weather.

“I think part of the idea for them canceling session on Wednesday was also due to the Chiefs parade, if I’m being real honest with you,” said Assistant Professor Luke Campbell, who served as a sponsor on the trip to Jefferson City. “I think that factored into their decision making on that too.”

Inclement weather and a parade for a professional football team — two things that have combined to cancel exactly zero days of classes at Northwest this semester — caused state lawmakers to abandon a day’s worth of legislative sessions and forced the group of Northwest students to return to Maryville empty-handed.

There was no lobbying, and without it, no progress made. There was no legislative session. And there shouldn’t be much surprise with any of this.

Northwest’s ill-timed trip to the capitol and subsequent snubbing by lawmakers was, of course, just one instance, but it depicts the broader state of Missouri’s governing body, one that has sat on its hands as the state has slipped well-below the national average in higher education funding, failing to consider students’ voice and the state’s future in the process.

Missouri ranked No. 46 in the U.S. in per-capita state fiscal support out of all the higher education facilities in 2019, according to Politifact. Funding analyzed through full-time equivalent enrollment, which provides a more specific view of how state funds are used to serve current students, shows the state ranks slightly better at 38 out of 50, but still below average, according to the website.

Northwest, in particular, received $5,678 in state funds per student based on 2017 enrollment data applied to appropriations from the fiscal year 2018, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education’s yearly higher education factbook, published in February 2019. That figure puts Northwest at sixth out of 10 public four-year universities analyzed, trailing the likes of Lincoln University, Truman State and Central Missouri.

Representing a University with below-average state appropriations within a state that seems to pride itself on a lack of higher education funding, the group of students, which seems to care more about the future of Missouri than its own lawmakers, were not heard. The snubbing was on-par with how state lawmakers have addressed higher education funding for much of the last decade — by failing to address it at all.

State Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-12th District, did make a motion to recognize the group’s efforts on the Senate floor, Campbell said. But the recognition feels hollow from a group of lawmakers who have given no effort themselves.

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