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Kansas, Missouri Student Lobbyists Look To Enact Change At Statehouse

In light of newly passed legislation impacting gun laws and school funding, many college students in Kansas and Missouri may not feel like lawmakers are hearing their concerns. 

Two student lobbyists are hoping to change that.

"Even more powerful than money is a story," said Brandon Henderson, a first-year student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

As the current lobbying intern for the UMKC chapter of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, Henderson travels to Jefferson City twice a week to advocate for UMKC students and discuss legislation with elected officials.

On the other side of the state line, University of Kansas senior Eric Martinez is the chair of the KU Student Legislative Awareness Board.

The two advocates spoke with Steve Kraske about their work on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date.

Each spring, Martinez works with students across the state to organize State Higher Education Day, during which representatives from Kansas' 32 colleges and universities visit Topeka to share perspectives with their lawmakers.

"It's an incredible experience," he said.

With modest budgets and spending restrictions, neither group can make financial contributions to state representatives. Still, their leaders are optimistic.

"We're moving the needle," Martinez said. "As long as we're there educating these legislators, we do believe that the law may change in the coming years."

On the KU campus, concealed carry has been a contentious issue. While most domestic students are permitted by law to possess a weapon, international students are prohibited. 

"Our international students are disproportionately affected by this," Martinez said, adding that some have even transferred schools due to safety concerns. "People know that they're not allowed to carry," he said.

In Missouri, addressing funding cuts has been a top priority for students.

"That's something that impacts every student, from all public universities in Missouri," Henderson said.

Tuition in Kansas has increased by approximately $2,000 over the last decade, Martinez said, while wages remain stagnant. He noted that school funding is a national issue, and that reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is a top priority among lobbying representatives from Big 12 Conference schools.

Though the future of funding for higher education is still unclear in Kansas and Missouri, these advocates say it's important to share student perspectives with lawmakers. 

"When we show up there, we share our story with lawmakers and they get to hear from students directly what it's like to be on the receiving end of some of their policies," Henderson said. "I think that's a very powerful thing."

"I know there are a lot of hardworking people down there who genuinely care about improving lives," he said. "Getting to work with those people is the best feeling in the world."

You can listen to the full interview on Up To Date here.

Claire Verbeck is an intern on KCUR's Up To Date. Find her on Twitter at @TheVeebs.