State funding falls millions short for Missouri K-12 schools

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | 9:50 p.m. CST; updated 11:20 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 26, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Republican senators are beginning to attack Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposals for education, arguing that it's not enough.

The governor has recommended an $18 million increase in the $3 billion program that provides state funds to public schools. But the law requires a higher level of funding, said Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who sponsored the original formula.

For the current fiscal year, state funding is $43 million short. And for next fiscal year, "if you wanted to fully fund the formula, there would need to be a $106 million increase," State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said.

Those differences are the basis for predictions from Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and other Republican senators.

"I think the state of Missouri is going to get sued," Schaefer said. "I am extremely concerned about that."

Schaefer said not reaching the amount needed to cover the Formula Foundation is a "$43 million brick wall that someone's going to collide with."

Luebbering, who spoke at Monday night's Senate Appropriations Committee session, said the impact of the cuts would mean more students per class and freezing salaries for teachers.

Money from the Missouri Gaming Commission, which the state uses to fund K-12 schools, has decreased in the past year because of the recession and gambling competition in other states. Since the expected revenue for education has decreased, Luebbering said Nixon's increase is generous considering the necessary cuts, but the funding still falls short.

Nixon shared a different view last year.

"Even those in these difficult economic times, we must fully fund the education Foundation Formula," Nixon said in last year's State of the State speech. "That is not negotiable."

Many Missouri school districts sued the state in 2004. The General Assembly quickly passed Shields' new state formula, and courts supported the state.

"We believe that it ought to be fully funded," Shields said. "That's the commitment the legislature made."

Shields echoed Schaefer's warning about the potential of a lawsuit if the legislature does not fully fund the formula.

Under the provisions in the formula law, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must formulate the minimum required to educate each student in the student's district.

The department calculates the amount from observing districts with high performing schools and investigates how much the districts spent to educate students, and the amount becomes the state minimum. Without the minimum to pay for education costs, the state will underfund school districts.

"It's an issue that needs to be resolved," Shields said.


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