JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s proposal to offer scholarships for adults to study high-demand fields received bipartisan pushback from state senators Tuesday.
Members of the Senate Education Committee questioned whether a new scholarship is needed, why the state should pay for that job training and which programs would be covered.
The skepticism among lawmakers could signal trouble for one of Parson’s priorities for the 2019 legislative session, which runs through mid-May.
At issue is $22 million in “Fast-Track” workforce grants to cover tuition for adults over age 25 who have household adjusted gross incomes of less than $80,000. The grants could only be used for those pursuing degrees, certificates or credentials in careers in high need of trained workers.
“It’s certainly being fast-tracked, and I’m not sure it’s well thought out,” Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican, said after the hearing.
Parson pitched the idea during his first State of the State speech earlier this month as part of his focus on workforce development. Republican Sen. Gary Romine, of Farmington, sponsored the bill debated in committee Tuesday.
Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said the governor is “excited that the Legislature is taking quick action” and that he “encourages dialogue” from lawmakers.
“He’s very confident that Fast-Track would directly impact thousands of Missourians and positively impact workforce development needs,” Jones said.
Missouri’s Department of Higher Education has said the program could serve 16,000 people annually.
Under Romine’s bill , students under age 25 who are not enrolled in classes for two academic years would also qualify for the grants. The scholarships would cover any costs not already paid for by other state and federal grants, and students would need to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA to continue receiving funding.
Onder questioned the need for creating a new grant program as opposed to putting more money toward existing state scholarships. Republican Sen. Ed Emery, of Lamar, said it’s usually businesses that pay to train workers and he’s concerned about the burden falling on taxpayers instead.
Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan told lawmakers that existing scholarships are available for younger students and recent high school graduates and the Fast-Track grants are meant to help make higher education affordable for older adults. She said businesses are less willing to invest in training because employees tend to switch jobs more frequently.
Sen. Jill Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat, is among those senators who worry that the specific programs the scholarships would cover have yet to be officially decided by the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education, although Mulligan said data the board will use to make a decision are available online .
Schupp said she still has questions about the age cutoff and who will be left out of the program, but she said a discussion she had with Mulligan and the Department of Economic Development director after the hearing “moved me a little bit closer to being on board.”