JEFFERSON CITY — Students, teachers, parents and principals converged on the Capitol on Monday to chastise their government leaders for cuts to public school funding and to ask for more money for their schools.
About 2,000 rally participants chanted “S-O-S, save our schools” and raised homemade banners urging elected officials to make children their priority. Several school officials told of how state funding cuts have resulted in fewer teachers, larger classes and program cuts to everything from athletics to tutors to teacher training.
“All of us are here today to send a message to our political leaders and the people of this state that our kids must come first,” said Carol Lupardus, president of the Missouri School Boards’ Association and chairwoman of the Missouri Education Roundtable, a collaboration of eight education groups that organized that rally.
“We’re not here to point fingers. We’re here to demand that our schools be adequately funded,” she said.
Public elementary and secondary schools are expected to receive about $177 million less in basic state aid this school year than the $2.7 billion they originally were budgeted to receive last year.
A midyear spending cut by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden lowered last year’s total to balance the budget. The Republican-led General Assembly cut a little deeper when preparing this year’s budget, which Holden reduced even further — again to balance a budget he claims was underfunded by the assembly.
Fearing more cuts next school year unless the state provides additional money, the Centralia School Board asked its high school principal to identify $200,000 of savings. Principal Darin Ford said that could mean elimination of the gifted student program, the in-school suspension supervisor, freshman sports and one of two counselors, among other things.
The Missouri School Boards’ Association held its legislative forum ahead of the Capitol rally, where it urged school board members to lobby legislators and the governor for more education money.
Battle over the budget
Holden and Republican legislative leaders have blamed one another for school funding cuts while declaring education to be their top priority, and they continued to do so Monday.
“They sent me a budget that was over-promised and underfunded and further shortchanged our schools,” Holden told the school boards group during a separate event at a nearby convention center.
House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, later responded: “The governor needs to spend the money that’s been appropriated for education.”
Legislative leaders have promised not to cut education funding but also don’t plan on providing much new money for schools.
Sen. Michael Gibbons, chairman of the Tax Policy Committee, told the school boards “there is no quick fix that solves education funding in the state of Missouri.” Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, implored educators to give lawmakers time to improve education funding.
“If we use that opportunity to build for the future, then enduring some pain for a few years, at least we know we have a vision, a sense of direction,” he said.