A state House committee still trying to increase funding for Missouri’s public school aid formula voted Tuesday to take $2.8 million from the University of Missouri system’s planned budget.
The amount accounts for the state’s yearly portion of a $35 million construction bond. The bond was issued three years ago to help pay for construction of a new basketball arena on the MU campus.
The money would then be put into the statewide Foundation Formula, a system of distributing aid to elementary and secondary schools. But the effects of adding $2.8 million into the roughly $2 billion formula would be minimal, said a spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Some money is almost always better than no money,” said Jim Morris of the department. “But it would have little practical effect for any single school district.”
Members of the House Appropriations-Education Committee, on a voice vote, approved the funding reduction as an amendment to the university system’s budget. Both items will next be considered by the House Budget Committee.
The total UM system budget proposal for fiscal year 2005 is $388 million.
Rep. Kathlyn Fares, chairwoman of the House Education Appropriation Committee, said she did not support the $2.8 million move.
“I’m pleased that there’s more money for elementary and secondary education, but I’m not in favor of taking it away from a higher-education system as opposed to a single school,” the St. Louis Republican said.
Rep. Mark Wright, R-Springfield, who led the fight for a now-dead bill that would have changed the name of Southwest Missouri State University, introduced the move.
Critics of the measure called moving the $2.8 million a strike against UM for any number of reasons — including the rejection of the attempt to change SMSU’s name.
“This seemed to be, frankly, a petty and possibly a retaliatory move,” said Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia. “That either reflects the lack of knowledge of the budgeting process of where those funds are coming from, or it’s a retaliatory type of action involving taxpayers’ dollars.”
At the hearing, Wright denied that the move was retributive. Rather, he said, the UM system would be better able to pay for the bond-incurred debts than the state.
Fares said that because the committee’s work on the public schools budget is completed, House rules would make any further fund swapping impossible.
UM system spokesman Joe Moore said Tuesday it’s too early to comment on the bill.
Missourian staff writer Gaurav Ghose and The Associated Press contributed to this story.