JEFFERSON CITY — The appointment of a 23-member House committee to examine the state’s formula for funding public schools drew a mix of praise and criticism from legislators Thursday. Some say the committee is necessary if the General Assembly is to succeed in revamping school funding, while others predict it will complicate the search for a solution.
House Speaker Rod Jetton appointed the committee, composed of five representatives from urban districts, eight from suburban districts and 10 from rural districts. The new panel comes after a joint House-Senate committee was named earlier in the legislative session to review education funding.
The foundation formula is the subject of a lawsuit filed by nearly half the state’s school districts, who say the formula provides inequitable amounts of per-pupil funding to the state’s school districts. Legislative leaders and Gov. Matt Blunt have acknowledged the formula probably will not withstand the court challenge.
The creation of a second committee to study potential changes to the formula brought complaints from some Democrats. But the chairman of the joint committee, Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the move was necessary because joint committees cannot send bills to the floor.
Shields said it is “highly, highly likely” that the legislature will pass a new foundation formula this session.
“Everything is aligned to get this through,” he said.
Freshman Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, who was named to the new committee, predicted a formula fix that will incorporate some of his ideas about switching the focus of education funding from property taxes to earnings taxes.
“We will have a new funding formula at the end of the session that we will present to the governor,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said having separate groups working on the issue will slow the process.
“It doesn’t seem that we have all the people needed to figure this out sitting in a room, and it’s Blunt’s, Jetton’s and (Senate President Pro Tem Michael) Gibbons’ job to get these people in the room,” Graham said.
Although Shields said he likes the premise behind Robb’s earnings tax idea, he doubts the legislature will go that far.
“Those ideas might come to fruition sometime in the future, but I’m not sure if we can get that this year,” Shields said.
While Blunt has repeatedly pushed for a foundation formula bill this session, House Democrats lament the fact that no bill has been filed a month into the session.
“The important thing is to hear specifically what the governor’s plan is so that we can get the process rolling before the session ends in May,” said Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia.
Jetton named Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, to lead the new committee. He touted the diverse nature of the panel and said education funding is a geographical issue, not a partisan one.
“This is a diverse group right here, and they are tasked with a very tough, tough job,” Jetton said. “And all I ask from them is that they do their very best job and be as fair as they can.”