Belcher: Gov. Nixon's proposed funding increases not enough

Thursday, January 19, 2012 | 6:39 p.m. CST; updated 12:31 p.m. CST, Friday, January 20, 2012

COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon’s intention to budget “record funding” for K-12 Missouri schools starting in the 2013 fiscal year is “a misnomer,” according to Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher.

In Tuesday night’s State of the State address, the governor touted a $5 million increase in funding for the foundation formula, Missouri’s primary method of dispersing state funds to schools. However, Belcher said that the proposed increase is not enough for growing districts such as Columbia’s. The proposed funding increase will not make up for the formula’s $300 million deficit, Belcher said.

“It’s more a political statement than it is a financial one,” he said. 

Nixon, a Democrat, emphasized the importance of improving Missouri’s public schools and avoiding budget cuts to elementary and secondary education. 

“For the past three years, even in challenging budget times, we maintained level funding for K-12 classrooms,” Nixon said in his speech. “The budget I present tonight provides record funding for our K-12 classrooms because that’s the right thing to do.”

Nixon’s newly released budget proposal includes a $3,009,388,410 allocation for the formula, up from last year’s $3,004,388,410.

Proposed increases for the foundation formula came as a pleasant surprise to Missouri school districts, Missouri School Boards’ Association spokesman Brent Ghan said. Although the $5 million bump for K-12 education funding from the 2012 fiscal year is a drop in the bucket, the implications of the increase are weightier.

“Given the budget hole that the state is facing right now, even a slight increase in funding for K-12 education is very good news for public schools of Missouri, especially in light of the fact that other state services and programs are facing cuts,” he said. “It indicates the governor is placing a high priority on K-12 education.”

Although any increase in school funding is a positive turn, the reality is that as the district continues to grow, level funding forces the district to spend less and less money per student per year, Belcher said.

“We grew 170 students this year, we’ll grow another 170 next year, and every time we grow, we’re getting less money per student,” he said. “It’s not really level funding for us.”

Belcher said he has cut 260 jobs from the district in the past four years, saving the district $20 million. These trims, however, hurt the students the district is supposed to serve, he said.

“We have larger class sizes, less administrators, less secretaries,” he said. “It’s harming the service we can deliver.”

Board of Education President Tom Rose said it is comforting that, as the budget stands now, the district will not have to decrease spending further in the next year. He said the district needs to continue to supply students with services outside the classroom, such as counseling, English as a Second Language classes and programs for students who have disabilities.

“It’s almost to the point where there’s not a lot of room to make further reductions,” Rose said.

On top of that, an inability to pay teachers a high enough salary has cost the district some good hires, Rose said. Potential teachers and administrators have turned down jobs with Columbia Public Schools because the district could not pay enough. Rose said this calls the quality of students’ education into question.

The district has saved significantly over the past three years in order to halt a trend of budget slashing. This year, Belcher said, no further jobs and services will be cut from Columbia Public Schools.

However, years of foundation formula underfunding continue to take their toll, Belcher said.

“We’re still underfunded, Columbia’s still losing ground, and the legislature is not willing to talk about it,” he said.

“It has been a brutal four years.”

In past years, foundation formula funding made up 35 percent to 36 percent of Columbia Public Schools’ budget. This year, that number was down to 32 percent. Belcher said it might dip to 30 percent next year.

The formula attempts to create equity in education from district to district in Missouri by filling in the gaps when local tax revenue falls short. A district with higher property values will receive less formula funds than one with lower property values.

The consistent underfunding of the formula “creates winners and losers” as districts grow, Belcher said.

“Because it’s underfunded, the equity it is meant to create is not working,” he said. “We are getting more and more disparity between schools.”

Belcher said money spent per student per year ranges from $7,000 to $16,000 across Missouri’s 532 public school districts.

Columbia Public Schools spends about $9,000 on each student’s education per year, Belcher said.

Public school busing was marked as a priority in Nixon's proposed 2013 fiscal year budget. Ghan said state funding for school transportation must be maintained so districts are not forced to reduce routes.

“We thought there might be cuts to (transportation funding),” Ghan said. “Even districts that don’t depend on the formula depend on transportation funding from the state.”

Although Columbia Public Schools has opted to continue all bus routes despite declining state transportation funding, the district has been forced to eat the costs, Belcher said.

While the state used to supply Columbia Public Schools with 70 percent of its transportation funding, that has since declined to last year’s 30 percent, he said.

Despite uncertainties about the future of K-12 funding, Ghan said he is optimistic about the proposed budget increase. The Missouri School Boards’ Association will work with the state legislature to maintain the funding spike as the budget is approved.

“It’s just very good news for school districts across our state,” Ghan said.

Belcher said school districts must wait until the legislature approves the state budget before they fully understand what lies ahead financially.

“Nixon has recommended level funding — that does not mean it is going to happen,” Belcher said. “We can’t stay level unless (the state government) finds something else to cut.”

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Delcia Crockett January 20, 2012 | 10:01 a.m.

@"Belcher said school districts must wait until the legislature approves the state budget before they fully understand what lies ahead financially."

There is a simple solution to this situation of the Columbia Public Schools' funding problem: Private schools run by volunteer educators who place/have/honor the individual potential of each child as focus with gifted teachers helping children in classroom focus.

It is never about bigger buildings, but it is about where public schools have placed money, that it has already been given in bucket loads.

Columbia Public Schools have some gifted teachers, and then there is the situation of tracking each child into adulthood. Why do we lose some of them to the streets?

We need the private community of Columbia to step up and take hold, whether it is church-founded or individual-founded, and take our kids back from the streets and from a public school that asks for more and more money, and yet meets with the same lack of success in each child developing to fullest potential.

The public schools of Missouri have given us sedentary and sit-down mindset for our children - medicated them and then shut down some of our most talented of imaginative/visual learning children.

Look at the track record and think of the opportunity to change this for now and for future generations. We have the clout in the elected in both our state legislative bodies to make the voucher choice a reality - so that every parent can pick the school best-suited for his/her child and change that child's life forever, thus changing Columbia and thus changing the world.

We need to meet the economics in the employment situation. The only way to secure the jobs of the future is to educate each child to fullest potential, and thus take the high-skilled jobs back from the world job sources and into this country, this state. (Read the studies on this; watch the dodocumentaries.) Otherwise, we are going to become worse off than ever. Count on it, if there is not a chance given for full-potential education.

If the public school money is not there in tax revenue and the voucher choice is available, then public schools might very well wake up and smell the coffee, and place whatever focus of funds left back on the student, the gifted teacher and imaginative-creative-visual-active learning and take it off a over-staffed administration, the big buildings - while our school children have gone hungry and could not even attend school because tax money that was supposed to go for air conditioning went on building.

Will they even need the buildings if parents have an actual choice in where to best educate their children?

Think of the money we will all save, by going the way of what is best for the child. God bless us, one and all.

~Delcia Crockett
composer, writer, teacher

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 20, 2012 | 11:08 a.m.

"We grew 170 students this year"

How many of those 170 new students come from households whose property taxes are anywhere near the $9300+ average that CPS spends on each student? CPS needs to force parents to pay their fair share, which is the difference between what they pay in property taxes and what the district spends to educate their children.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor January 20, 2012 | 12:23 p.m.

C'mon now Jimmy. It might make you feel better to write that, but let's keep it real. Not only do we all benefit from educating "our" children, we do not pay per use in other tax supported services.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 20, 2012 | 12:42 p.m.

Of course we benefit from educating children. I'm not arguing that childless households shouldn't have to pay for schools. Instead, I'm saying that besides non-parents continuing to do so, parents would be required to pay the difference between what the school spends on their children and the school portion of their property tax. Keep in mind that parents already get tax breaks and credits. In light of those and what the rest of the community pays -- and would continue to pay -- it's not unreasonable to require them to pay their fair share.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield January 20, 2012 | 12:47 p.m.

And we do "pay per use in other tax supported services." For example, if you choose to own a car, then you pay by usage through registration and inspection fees, fuel taxes and tolls. If you choose to have a child, you should expect to pay your fair share of educating that child.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor January 20, 2012 | 2:19 p.m.

My examples would be all of the services that my tax dollars go to support that I do not use or directly benefit from...
I am usually right there with you, so don't want to draw this one out. Happy Friday!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 20, 2012 | 3:34 p.m.

When tax money was plentiful, half day kindergarten in the public school system became full day kindergartens. Monies were also used to buy classroom computers not only for high school classrooms but all through the high school through kindergarten grades, placing quite a bit of cash flow for those computer salesmen and ongoing upgrades for our Kindergarten through High School computer systems.
Now that monies are tight, I propose that CPS eliminate public school pre-K's, return to half day kindergartens and become better stewards of the monies they have. Families/parents and the churches can prepare those under 6 years of age for first grade, should we need to eliminate public school kindergartens entirely.
Monies can also be saved by not constantly upgrading classroom computer systems, having high school students use public bus service instead of outside vendor yellow school bus service and encouraging brown bag lunches instead of "free lunch" for everyone.
I'd also like to see teenagers attending public schools selectively tested for illegal drug use as many are attending school while under the influence. You can't impact the achievement gap if the teen is attending school stoned.
Also, the size of a classroom should not matter if the administration uses volunteers or combines classrooms. It's not the size of the classroom that matters, it's the management and education methods and tools that are used. You could teach an auditorium filled with 15 year olds, if the auditorium were set up for a mass audience of motivated/sober mature learners.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders January 20, 2012 | 5:41 p.m.

Too bad Mr. Belcher doesn't have an education in economics, otherwise he'd understand the futility of everyone trying to live at everyone else's expense.

Instead, all he knows is that he needs more, and more, and more, never realizing the debilitating condition created by his dependency on other people's money.

It's going to be interesting over the next few years, watching this downward spiral as the tax-base continues to erode. The more broken the economy becomes, the more they (public spenders of all stripes) will break it further by demanding everyone pony up even more in support of their failure.

At some point a prudent person begins to wonder just exactly what services can we afford. The imprudent though, well they never give it a second thought, instead relying upon wishful-thinking to fill in the void where logic should be.

Yes, we need educated children that will grow into educated adults if we want a healthy society. Problem is, the "public education system" is obviously not the vehicle to achieve this goal.

Mr. Belcher's demands do nothing but to hasten the collapse caused by eating all of our seed corn (while pretending to plant it).

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders January 20, 2012 | 5:52 p.m.

While this video isn't about school spending per se, it does an excellent job of showing just how futile government redistribution schemes are, as they are impossible to pay for (well, unless we let the not-Federal not-Reserve keep printing the "money" to pay for it (Which is the true problem in the economy, as this "money from thin air" is "borrowed" from private banks with interest.)).

In this video, the presenter attempts to find a way to pay for the last year's fiscal budget by the old class warfare tactic of "soaking the rich" (you know, the ones who can afford it).

Now, after watching this video, does anyone honestly believe this path is sustainable? Mr. Belcher?

(Report Comment)

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