Missouri Legislature (copy)

Missouri state Rep. Brenda Shields stands in a gallery overlooking the Missouri House chamber on the opening day of the legislative session earlier this month. Shields was picked by House Speaker Rob Vescovo to chair the House Higher Education Committee.

St. Joseph State Rep. Brenda Shields has been tapped to head the Missouri House’s Higher Education Committee for the new legislative session that began earlier this month.

Republican House Speaker Rob Vescovo announced this week the chairs of 37 standing House committees, including sophomore representative Shields, a Republican who represents portions of Northwest Missouri. Shields said she is honored to be heading the committee.

“Higher education, in all of its forms, is incredibly important for the workforce and for the economy,” she said.

In addition to chairing the higher education committee, Shields will be the vice chairman of the subcommittee on education appropriations. She also serves on the House Children and Families Committee as well as the House Budget Committee.

Being in touch with issues relating to the budget and education, Shields said she is keenly aware of how previous budgets made significant cuts to higher education funding across the state.

“We balanced the budget on the back of higher education,” she said. “My plans are that we not do that again and that we help our universities out.”

Shields applauded Gov. Mike Parson for the recent distribution of CARES Act funds to state-run higher education institutions around Missouri.

“They were able to get a lot of projects done that we haven’t been able to fund in the past,” Shields said. “A lot of universities have taken this opportunity to work on their air handling systems because that was part of the issue with COVID.”

Although next year’s budget as yet to be released, Shields said she hopes colleges and universities will get their fair share.

“I think we have to be concerned about the base funding that we give to universities so we can continue to be able to keep tuition reasonable for students,” she said.

With Missouri Western State University and Northwest Missouri State University in her backyard, Shields said she hopes her committee leadership will go a long way for the community she represents.

“I think this committee should be really important for our side of the state,” she said.

No legislation has been assigned to her committee yet, but Shields said the House Higher Education Committee will address how to reform taxpayer-funded schools.

“I think that one thing we’ll be looking at is duplication of programs at universities,” said Shields. “A lot of members have a lot of different ideas that they want to address in higher education and we’ll look at those bills and see which ones need to come to committee.”

Budgetary issues aside, the committee primarily deals with legislation and policy that will affect both state and private institutions.

“Not only colleges and universities, but community colleges, tech schools and any policy that affects higher education,” Shields said. “Anything that falls under higher ed would be brought up in front of the committee.”

Shields is one of only 10 sophomore members of the House appointed to chair a committee.

“We have an outstanding group of chairs who have the experience and aptitude to take on some of the most pressing issues facing our state,” Vescovo, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, said in a statement. “I have complete confidence in their ability to lead their committees and to work with their members to ensure each bill receives meaningful discussion and debate that will produce well-crafted public policy.”

Shields said she was humbled by her appointment as second-term representative.

“I am so excited that the speaker entrusted me with this,” Shields said. “I think it’s a very important committee for our state and one that we depend on so much for the development of a workforce.”

Mark Zinn can be reached at mark.zinn@knpn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @KNPNZinn.