Legislators mull revisions for school aid

Tuesday, January 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:16 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A committee studying ways to revise Missouri’s school funding formula heard Monday from a consultant who recommended two plans that would cost the state an additional $710 million to $1.5 billion a year.

But the committee’s chairman said the proposals offered by John Augenblick, head of a Denver-based firm that advises states on school finance issues, would go nowhere this year, partly because of the costs.

“You’d have to look at this as a long-term strategy,” said Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the legislature’s joint Interim Committee on Education.

The committee plans to issue a report next month on possible short- and long-term revisions to the funding formula adopted in 1993. Critics say the formula yields inadequate state aid to elementary and secondary education and distributes the money unfairly among Missouri’s 524 school districts.

Besides Augenblick, who was hired by a coalition of Missouri education and business groups, the interim committee has also been hearing from a University of Florida professor retained by the legislature as a consultant on school funding.

Augenblick’s work has focused chiefly on the adequacy of state aid for schools, rather than on the issue of equity.

Using the 2001-02 school year as a base, Augenblick has calculated that Missouri should have spent an additional $913 million that year — on top of the $2.2 billion appropriated — to fund public schools “adequately.”

The additional money would have set basic state aid in 2001-02 at $5,428 per pupil, Augenblick said in a report he submitted in October.

On Monday, Augenblick went before the committee to outline two proposals for rewriting the funding formula to produce additional state aid.

The more expensive option would require all districts to maintain the current minimum property tax levy of $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation, with the state paying the difference between what the local taxes generate and the “adequate” funding level. The numbers would vary by district.

Augenblick said the overall cost to the state would be $1.5 billion, while local property taxes would drop by $400 million.

His second proposal would give districts more flexibility in setting local property tax levies but would also require amending the Missouri Constitution.

That proposal would set a target levy of $3.44 per $100 assessed valuation but let each district depart by 20 percent up or down, producing a range of permitted levies from $2.75 to $4.13 per $100 assessed valuation.

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