Performance-Based Higher Education Funding Debated in Missouri

Since the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act, former President George W Bush’s federal education initiative, funding based on student performance has become standard practice in much of K-12 education. Now, according to Allison Prang of the Columbia Missourian, Missouri is hoping to expand that evaluation and funding practice to higher education.

Although a plan to fund the public university system in the state based on student outcomes was rejected in the General Assembly during the last session, the sponsor of the bill, Senator David Pearce of Warrensburg, already said that he plans to introduce it again this fall. The Pearce proposal wouldn’t be a drastic shift – only 10% of the funding would be based on performance – but it could easily set the course for broader policies down the road.

Missouri started down the road toward performance funding in January when Gov. Jay Nixon proposed $34 million of new funding for schools that met performance criteria that the Missouri Department of Higher Education helped set, according to a previous Missourian article. Those criteria included retention for freshmen and sophomores, degree completion, financial responsibility and specific measures that each school developed for itself, according to a report from the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.

Pearce, who is the chairman of the Joint Committee of Education, then introduced a measure that was in large part based on a report by the committee calling for setting funding levels to performance and finding that compared to other public university systems around the country, the state was underfunding its university system by close to $400 million.

Performance-based funding in higher ed predictably hasn’t been warmly received by everyone. Democratic Representative Chris Kelly of Columbia dismissed the bill as a distraction, saying that legislators were focusing on performance because they wanted to draw attention away from the fact that they’re unwilling to fund their public university system.

But the opposition isn’t just from the opposite side of the ideological aisle. Senator Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, filibustered Pearce’s bill when it came up for a vote in the state Senate.

The National Conference of State Legislatures in 2012 issued a report spelling out where all 50 states were on performance-based funding. It said 12 states already have some sort of performance-funding policy, and another 12, including Missouri, are moving toward it. Julie Bell, education group director for the conference, said performance funding started to become popular in recent years as lawmakers faced with tight state budgets sought more accountability. Performance-based funding models vary widely from state to state. Bell said that because most of the policies are relatively new, there is insufficient to data to determine whether they’re effective.