Bill would not decrease school aid

It would bring public school funding to the same levels that were received in 2001-02.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Monday’s rally for more public school money was greeted Tuesday by a House bill that would effectively hold steady state aid distribution to public schools.

The House Committee on Education Appropriation heard a plan Tuesday that calls for funding public schools at almost exactly the same levels they received during the 2002-03 school year.

Because Missouri’s funding formula is a complex array of variables, some individual districts could end up with more money through the plan, even though total state funding wouldn’t increase, said Geri Ogle, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education associate commissioner.

But the broad nature of the bill raised the ire of some representatives who questioned whether the plan was more of a blank check than a budget.

“If that’s the extent of our analysis,” said Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, “then we can go ahead and continue this exercise, but it really sounds like a one-size-fits-all approach.”

House Education Appropriation Committee Chairwoman Kathlyn Fares, R-Webster Groves, denied that the plan was too broad or vague, but she did say the plan was “cautious.”

“We’re trying to find a figure that’s within reason, a figure that can — and should — be appropriated,” she said.

Fares also said that while she agreed the plan offered only minimal change, it did not indicate a lack of analysis or critical thinking by the part of the committee.

“We don’t have a lot of wiggle room financially,” she said. “We have to be cautious.”

Ogle cautioned that the plan to hold state aid to previously established levels would not allow schools to “keep up with a variety of costs.”

But, she said, Missouri schools could certainly face worse alternatives.

“Of course we’d like there to be an increase in funding,” Ogle said. “But this is not a decrease, which was a concern.”

The House appropriation proposal follows the issue last week of a report by the Joint Committee on Education Funding.

The report offered vague philosophical arguments, but contained no legislation or concrete suggestions, on how to tweak Missouri’s Foundation Formula, which dictates state aid distribution to public school districts.

The appropriations committee will continue to work on the bill at 3 p.m. today. No vote has been taken.

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