JEFFERSON CITY _ Students who want to spend their college career learning how to fix an air conditioner would have a state school to attend if some lawmakers get their way.
Although Missouri has more than 25 public colleges and universities, it has no statewide institution specializing in technical education.
"There is a dire need in this state to fulfill these specialized positions," said Carl James, President and owner of JC Manufacturing in Jefferson City.
Amid colorful maps boasting students from across the nation and glowing accounts of Linn Technical College, Sen. Mike Lybyer, D-Huggins, introduced a bill that will make the school Missouri's first state technical college. Lybyer said the long-term goal of his legislation is to create a system of two-year technical colleges modeled after Linn Tech.
Eventually, the state should have five or six technical institutions, Lybyer said. States like Oklahoma and Texas now have a similar system.
The Senate Education Committee recommended lawmakers pass a substitute to Lyber's bill with changes in the retirement system for employees.
A similar bill also has been approved by a House committee. The House bill includes a clause that would require the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Education Department to complete a comprehensive assessment of post-secondary vocational technical education in Missouri. It would specifically address the need for any additional state technical colleges and evaluate their role in higher education. The study would also set up the criteria existing schools should meet to earn a statewide designation.
The proposed model school is located in Linn, a small town about a half-hour drive east of Jefferson City on Highway 50. The Osage County R-II School District has successfully operated Linn Tech since it was founded in 1961.
Because of the school's reputation, James said many employers only hire Linn Tech students for certain jobs.
"You can't find them anywhere else. Linn Tech keeps up with current technology," James said. "We are in a global economy and we're having to rapidly learn new technology."
Linn Tech, the only public school in the state dedicated entirely to technical education, currently enrolls more than 500 students and has a budget of more than $4 million, said Don Linn, Tech Claycomb president
The legislation stipulates that Linn Tech will continue to offer only an associate of applied science or a certificate.
But supporters of Lybyer's bill said the school's current funding does not allow it to expand its resources.
Because it is designated as an area vocational-technical school, Linn Tech now receives about 40 percent of its revenue from the state Education Department, Claycomb said.
But others question Missouri's need for a statewide school.
Missouri currently has 57 such locally-funded vo-tech schools, said Russ McCampbell, state Education Department assistant commissioner for vocational education. He said many of these schools offer cooperative programs with community colleges in which students can get their associate degrees. But McCampbell said Linn Tech is unique because it awards students degrees with its name emblazoned on them.
Linn Tech is the only degree-granting public institution in Missouri not answering to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, Claycomb said.
Under Lybyer's plan, all staff, operations and capital improvements would be funded through the Higher Education Department. But the school would still receive part of its funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Department.
If the bill is passed, Linn Tech would be under the oversight of the Higher Education Coordinating Board, said Michelle Tandy, spokeswoman for the state Higher Education Department. The Elementary and Secondary Education Department would provide the school with additional state funding.
Currently, the state breaks up higher education funds into two catagories: two-year institutions and four-year institutions. Linn Tech would create its own funding division because of its unique situation.
As for its impact on the other post-secondary schools, Tandy said it is totally up to legislature how it divides the funds.
Jim Snider, lobbyist for the University of Missouri System, said he doesn't know if it will have any significant effect on funding at all.
The addition of Linn Tech to the higher education appropriations budget will have no fiscal impact for at least the first two years, Snider said.