Maren Bell Jones protests in front of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ mansion

As seen on The Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — A small crowd of protesters gathered Saturday in front of the governor’s mansion — a cowbell and snare drum thumping to the beat of their chants.

The protesters repeatedly shouted, “Students and faculty, let’s unite. Education is a right.” They held signs with “Stop the cuts” and “College graduates use less public assistance.”

The group included MU students, MU employees and Columbia residents who traveled to Jefferson City to participate in a Stop the Cuts Coalition rally.

The coalition, or SCC, protested Gov. Eric Greitens’ call for almost $98 million in cuts to the state budget for higher education and the legislature’s proposal to increase the tuition cap.

“It wasn’t easy for me to get here,” MU junior Ningyuan Hu, an international student from China, said in a speech directed toward the protesters.

“My parents almost spent all their savings to support me to pay for my tuition, fees and other expenses.”

The tuition cap proposal was included in House Bill 2348 and would allow universities and colleges to raise tuition up to the rate of inflation plus another 10 percent if funding is not increased through appropriations.

It also would remove limits on tuition increases in years when the state doesn’t provide funding. The bill was passed Wednesday in the House Higher Education Committee with a 7-1 vote.

“When the state reneges on its obligation to adequately fund higher education, students are left to fill the gaps,” said Joseph Moore, one of the rally’s organizers.

“So the burden to finance your education is placed on the students, and that puts low-income, working-class and students of color at a disadvantage.”

Moore is a graduate student and graduate instructor at MU. He said his experiences have led to his belief that education “should be accessible to everyone.”

“I think education is a public good, and I think it should be treated as a public good,” he said.

MU junior Victoria Vitale told the more than 30 attendees that she has “accrued nearly $50,000 in federal and private student loan debt,” even though she works “25 to 35 hours a week.” She faced the governor’s mansion as she asked, “Tell me, Governor, why is becoming a social worker at a publicly funded Missouri school so financially difficult?

“Why must I also sacrifice my financial future?” she asked. “Why must I question myself everyday every day if I will be able to afford to have children?”

Vitale, a major in social work and economics, said she comes from a household below the poverty line. She said increasing tuition rates make it difficult for students like her to earn a college degree.

“Instead of taking $12,000 next year (in loans), I’d have to take out $15,000,” Vitale said after her speech. “And the thing is, with interest, that’s going to end up being $25,000 by the time I fully pay it off.”

Moore and Vitale both said they want the governor to stop lowering the corporate tax rate and allocate the money toward funding for public universities.

“This quote unquote ‘budget situation’ was created; it didn’t fall from the sky, and it’s a consequence of year, after year, after year of them eroding the state’s revenue base through needless, unnecessary tax cuts that would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest residents of the state and corporations,” Moore said.

“Even while the governor is proposing cutting higher education by a hundred million dollars, he’s also proposing to make corporate tax in Missouri the second lowest in the nation.”

Greitens proposed a tax cut in January that would cut the rate for the top income tax bracket from 5.9 percent to 5.3 percent and would bring the corporate tax rate down from 6.25 percent to 4.25 percent. During his statewide tax tour, Greitens described these cuts as ways to help Missouri families and bring in more jobs. The only state with a lower corporate tax rate is North Carolina.

The SCC was created in February in reaction to the proposed statewide budget cuts. The members are primarily MU students, faculty and employees. Moore said about 20 members consistently show up to meetings. The coalition is supported by CoMo for Progress, Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and Our Revolution: Mid-Missouri.

“Because the coalition is new, we wanted to have an event that would sort of announce our presence and raise our profile a little bit,” Moore said.

“So this is really just a kick-off of more things to come.”