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Columbia Missourian

Belcher: Proposed increase to funding formula still not enough for Columbia

By Caroline Bauman
January 30, 2013 | 8:30 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — In his State of the State address Monday night, Gov. Jay Nixon proposed putting an additional $65.9 million into Missouri's foundation formula. It is used to determine how much state money public school districts get. 

But even with that infusion of new money, the foundation formula still would be underfunded and unable to work the way it was intended to, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said. It would still be $620 million short statewide, according to a fiscal summary for education in Nixon's proposed budget.

The formula attempts to create equity in education in Missouri’s districts by filling in when local tax revenue falls short. A district with higher amounts of local property tax support won't receive as much formula funds as districts with lower support.

Money is not distributed in an equitable fashion across the state because the foundation has been underfunded for years, Belcher said.

"Columbia is in the bottom 10 percent of districts who receive money from the foundation formula," Belcher said. The district received $600,000 less in state support this year than last year.

Although the district is likely to see a slight increase in funding under the proposed budget, Columbia would still receive less funding than districts with the same number of students, Belcher said.

"Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City (public schools) all have roughly the same amount of students, at 17,000," Belcher said. "We receive $50 million from the state. St. Louis and Kansas City receive close to $90 million.”

According to Missouri Comprehensive Data System from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Eduction at mcds.dese.mo.gov, the enrollment numbers for September 2012 are 17,707 students in Columbia, 24,766 students in St. Louis and 16,687 students in Kansas City.

Given tight fiscal times, Nixon's proposed increases exceeded the expectations of the Missouri School Boards' Association, spokesman Brent Ghan said.

"Overall we couldn’t be more pleased with the increases," Ghan said. "We will recommend to the General Assembly that these budget increases be approved."

In all, Nixon proposed $100 million more for K-12 education. Under his proposed budget, a portion would go toward lengthening the school year.

"Right now, Missouri has the fourth-shortest school year in the nation," Nixon said. "Adding six more days to the next school year will give teachers more time to work with their students and give kids more time to learn."

The addition of six school days would cost Columbia Public Schools more than $3.5 million annually, Belcher said.

"I would love six more days," Belcher said. "But I don't know a way to do that without paying faculty and staff six additional days of pay."

Columbia Public Schools has a healthy summer school that adds 20 days to the school year, Belcher said.

"It's optional, but 60 percent of elementary-aged kids attend," Belcher said. "So the majority of K-five students attend 194 days of school or have the option to."

Ghan said a concern with the lengthened year is increases to the personnel and facility costs. "Provided the resources are there, there is a lot of merit to lengthening the school year," he said.

Nixon also proposed creation of the BOOST Fund, or Building Opportunities in Our Schools Today. It would provide money for school construction through bond issues, which would allow the state to establish a permanent, low-interest loan fund.

"We are one of the few states without state support for construction," Ghan said. "This could greatly help with facilities in need."

The BOOST Fund would not likely affect Columbia Public Schools because the district has excellent bond capacity, Belcher said.

Increased funding of $8 million from the local tax base has replaced some of the lost state revenue for the district this year, Belcher said. Of the increase, $4 million was used to replace lost state funding, $2 million was used to hire teachers and the remaining $2 million was used for instructional technology.

"We hired about 65 new teachers this year," Belcher said. "This gave us some of the best class sizes in years. … It’s slowed down some of the bleeding."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.