JEFFERSON CITY — With the bulk of the Republicans’ legislative priorities making fast progress through the legislature, the Senate was set to vote on a change in the formula used to fund schools late Tuesday night.
Although a vote did not come as of press time, Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who led the effort to change the formula used to disperse state funding to local schools, said he planned to permit floor debate to continue to a vote. These changes would be the first wholesale changes to school funding since 1993.
The impetus to change the formula picked up steam after almost half of the state’s districts filed suit against the state in January 2004, charging the current formula is inequitable.
But Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said the biggest problem is the under-funding of the current formula, not the formula itself.
“If the formula was not underfunded by as much as it is now, we wouldn’t have had the lawsuit,” he said. “As long as it was fully funded, its equity and adequacy wasn’t being challenged.”
Graham said if the existing formula were only to be funded at $652 million, Columbia schools would stand to gain $16.3 million but would only gain $1.3 million if Shields’ formula were fully-funded.
Shields said it was disingenuous to make the comparison because his formula would need a five-year implementation and Graham’s numbers suggest the state could immediately spend $600 million on K-12 education next year.
Shields’ proposal, first unveiled in February, would cost about $664 million and is modeled after what the state’s best performing school districts spend per pupil. The formula would provide additional funds for districts with a higher-than-average proportion of students low in English proficiency, enrolled in free and discount lunch, or special education programs.
The proposed formula, unlike many of the session’s other big-ticket issues, breaks down along regional rather than political lines. Floor debate on Monday spread into a free-ranging discussion of issues as diverse as rural school consolidation, property tax assessments and charter schools.
Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, said capping a factor to account for differences in salary across the state at an additional 10 percent was unfair because it did not sufficiently account for additional expenses of urban and suburban school districts. Bartle said school districts, such as those in his suburban Jackson County district, needed more than rural districts to pay higher teacher salaries.
The Senate ultimately voted to remove the 10 percent cap but did not remove an established base amount. Because of how the entire foundation formula is calculated, no school is likely to receive more than an extra 15 percent added to its state appropriation based on salaries in a district’s county.No district in Boone County was affected by the cap as many of the districts, including Columbia, would multiply their appropriations by only 3.3 percent.
Although many of the most divisive issues were removed or changed before floor debate, a growing urban-rural divide grew increasingly evident.
Responding to Bartle’s criticism of a capped factor for teacher salaries and suggestions by some suburban lawmakers that rural districts needed to consolidate schools, Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said suburban and urban legislators were operating under false assumptions.
“If your folks and their BMW’s would come through the district long enough to see what’s happening, they might think differently,” said Scott, who represents a rural area south of Kansas City.
Although suburban areas were the beneficiaries of several floor amendments, Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, from rural northwest Missouri, was able to add $5 million to a trust fund for districts with fewer than 300 students.
Rural senators also won a showdown on a proposed certificate of value, which supporters said was vital to ensuring the accuracy of assessed property value for tax purposes. Many suburban lawmakers said undervaluation of property in rural areas had put a strain on the system and was one of the main reasons for the problem. Rural senators said certificates of value are an invasion of privacy.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said suburban senators misunderstood the issue.
“You pay too much in property taxes; it’s not that we, in out-state Missouri pay too little,” he said.
The House must also pass the formula.