HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposed funding increase that would enable the state university system to freeze tuition for the next two years cleared its first committee hurdle at the Legislature Wednesday.
But the same budget panel also voted to scale back Bullock’s request for student financial aid and did not approve any funding for another of his priorities: Statewide voluntary preschool.
Still, Rep. Llew Jones (R-Conrad) and chair of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, noted Wednesday that the votes are merely the first step in the session-long budgeting process.
He said preschool funding can be inserted later into the session’s main spending bill, House Bill 2 – if a separate preschool authorization bill appears it will pass.
“This is the beginning of the journey,” he said as the subcommittee began voting on education budgets. “I know as we do some of these things, there will be some folks who are in full agreement on some of them, or all of them, and that aren’t. But ultimately we are beginning a journey.”
The panel’s votes on Wednesday are recommendations forwarded to the full House Appropriations Committee, which will vote on HB2 next month.
HB2 then proceeds to the House floor and the Senate, before finally reaching the governor’s desk at the end of the four-month Legislature.
The subcommittee approved Bullock’s requested $24 million increase in state funding for the university system, in order for the system to freeze student tuition through the 2020-21 school year.
Jones told MTN News that subcommittee members endorsed the increase in part because of the university system’s promise to place more emphasis on career and technical training, for students who may not want or need a four-year degree.
The panel also voted to approve only $2 million in need-based financial aid for in-state students. Bullock and the university system had proposed $5 million, which would be matched with $5 million in private donations.
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News