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Members of the Montana Board of Regents expressed concern Friday about the future of funding that helps Montana students go to medical, dental and other out-of-state schools.

Such funding is being considered by the Montana Legislature.

A conference call linked regents, campus leaders and representatives of the governor's office and the Office of Public Instruction in the first of weekly meetings to update everyone on higher-education issues before the Legislature.

The Montana University System's budget for the next two years is before the joint appropriations subcommittee in Helena with some provisions being approved and some voted down.

One that has been voted down twice so far is a $1.38 million appropriation for 2010-11 that helps Montana students in the Washington Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho medical program, or WWAMI, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education program, or WICHE, as well as a program that sends students to dental school in Minnesota.

If funding to subsidize students is cut, that might mean Montana students wouldn't participate in the WWAMI program at the University of Washington's Medical School and may put the number of places reserved for Montana students in the future at risk, said Stephen Barrett of Bozeman, the regents board chair.

The University System budget is part of House Bill 2, the state general funding bill.

Regents also discussed what the Obama administration's mammoth economic stimulus package might mean for Montana. The measure passed the U.S. House this week and is before the U.S. Senate.

The House version of the proposal includes money for everything from increases in Pell grants that help students pay for tuition to modernizing, renovating and repairing buildings at colleges and universities.

Although it is still too early to know how much money will be available and where it would go, "we are working fast and furious" to look at all pieces of the package to see how Montana can take full advantage of it, said Jan Lombardi, the governor's education adviser.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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