JEFFERSON CITY— The Missouri House endorsed legislation Wednesday that would shield more than one-quarter of Missouri's public school districts from a midyear funding cut caused by state budget troubles.
Declining state revenues prompted Gov. Jay Nixon to conclude Missouri wouldn't have enough money to make midyear payments to districts totaling $43 million. The payments weren't included in the state's budget but were called for under its school financing formula.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had planned to divide the shortfall among all 523 school districts. But legislation given first-round House approval exempts about 150 districts from funding reductions. The bill needs another vote to move to the Senate.
The exemption would go to districts that didn't benefit from an increase in state aid under the funding formula developed in 2005. They include the state's two largest districts of St. Louis and Kansas City, as well as some of the largest suburban districts and a mixture of small, rural districts.
But many rural lawmakers contend the legislation unfairly leaves some school districts absorbing budget cuts that should be shared by all. The House rejected 83-73 an amendment that would have split the funding cut among all districts.
Rep. Rachel Bringer, who represents a relatively rural area in northeast Missouri, pointed to a map showing the state's school districts to highlight her point that wealthier districts were getting a boost at the expense of others. Bringer referred several times to schools in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, which she said spends twice as much per student as some rural schools.
"It's just completely adding insult to injury to ask the rural districts that are on the formula to take the cut that the districts that should have been cut years ago refuse to take today," said Bringer, D-Palmyra.
Rep. Rick Stream, a Republican who served more than a decade on the school board in Kirkwood, said residents chose to pay more in local taxes to help their schools. They did not benefit from the funding increases that went to most schools under the state financing formula, he said.