Education bill still in committee, could move to House floor next week

Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 4:13 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — With six weeks remaining in the legislative session, the bill that would deal with the underfunded school foundation formula and unaccredited school districts has been stuck in committee for weeks.

The education bill would allow students in unaccredited districts to transfer to county schools. It would also provide tax credits for those students, eliminate teacher tenure in favor of annual contracts and allow charter schools to expand to all unaccredited districts.

The bill was adopted in the House Education Committee late in February and is still waiting to move forward to the House floor.

House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said he plans to discuss the bill next week, after the budget bills are taken care of.

Part of the difficulty in dealing with a bill this extensive is that several crucial issues, such as how to equalize funding for public schools in different areas, are tied up with issues that face more contention, such as eliminating teacher tenure and dealing with transfers from unaccredited districts, said Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville. The current budget gap in Missouri means the school funding formula is $268 million short of adequate funding.

Missouri statutes have no contingency plan on how to deal with the underfunded formula. If no legislative steps are taken, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will decide how to deal with the lack of funding.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and other representatives have said this could result in unfair cuts to schools that have not received a funding increase since 2005.

Pearce is sponsoring a bill that would even out this funding, but it has not yet been voted out of the Senate Education Committee. A similar change was wrapped into the omnibus education bill Thomson sponsored in the House. He said part of the problem is that the formula change affects the hold harmless and formula districts differently, so legislators vote based on how the change affects their district.

"It's very difficult to craft a statewide policy when everyone is just looking at that one-line item that might affect their school district back home," Pearce said.

Thomson didn't vote for the omnibus education bill, despite the fact that he sponsored the original bill to deal with the formula. Thomson said his formula adjustment was being used to push other people's agenda items in the omnibus bill.

"We're basically holding the state hostage and saying 'we're gonna let things crumble until we get what we want,'" Thomson said.

Thomson and Pearce said the House's formula change was less likely to pass because it's wrapped up with more controversial issues such as eliminating teacher tenure.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said the state has an obligation to provide adequate and equitable funding for all school districts and if action is not taken, some school districts will be winners and others will be losers.

"We will have a formula that's way out of balance," Lampe said. "And nobody wants to go home and talk to their schools about that."

The education bill awaits debate and approval from the House before it can move forward to the Senate.

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