State revises school funding

Under the new formula, the Columbia School District will get less money from the state.
Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]

With the final approval of Missouri’s new school funding formula, Columbia School District officials are taking the first steps in a plan to maximize their share of state dollars under the new system.

On Wednesday, Gov. Matt Blunt signed the state’s new foundation formula into law. The formula, which will be phased in over a seven-year period, uses students’ needs rather than local property taxes to determine the amount of state funding a school district receives each year.

Columbia Public Schools receive between $1.5 million and $2.2 million each year from the state under the old formula, which is still in effect until the 2006-07 school year. According to district calculations, Columbia will receive significantly less funding — about $7.13 million total over the next seven years — when the new formula goes into effect.

At last week’s retreat, the Columbia School Board approved a plan to take advantage of a favorable loophole in state statutes that allows the district to shift funds in the budget to maximize Columbia Public Schools’ share under the new formula. The move will shift about $1.3 million from local revenues from the Operating and Teachers fund to the Capital Projects fund.

The transfer is designed to increase the amount of money sent by the state. By shifting local revenues to other funds, the district will fare better under the new formula, which no longer favors schools with high property taxes. The transferred revenues will affect the 2004-05 school year, which is the basis for parts of the new formula.

Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent, said by moving the $1.3 million, the district should receive almost $1.3 million more from the state in return.

“It’s almost a dollar-for-dollar return,” he said. “With everything we know right now about the formula, this is the best thing we can do for this district.”

The old formula has been significantly underfunded since 2001, Cowherd said. The state will be adding about $900 million to the current formula budget over the next seven years, said Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia. Jessica Robinson, press secretary for Gov. Matt Blunt, said the old formula cost the state about $2.2 billion for fiscal year 2005. The funding for the new formula will come from economic growth across the state, she said.

The state originally projected that Columbia would receive about $1.3 million total over the next seven years, based on data from the 2003-04 school year. By shifting funds and using the most current data, the district was able to estimate $7.13 million in state revenues. The district will submit the most current data to the state today and will receive more definite information on funding in early fall, after state review of the data.

“One of the things that’s so difficult is trying to anticipate changes and estimate for those changes,” Cowherd said. “The state had good data, but that data is always somewhat after-the-fact.”

Under the old formula, which has been used since 1993, the local property tax rate is used as the main factor to determine state aid. For every tax penny, the state provides a certain amount of money for each student.

The new plan sets a minimum adequate spending level of $6,117 per student. The formula uses weighted attendance that gives special attention to schools with high numbers of special education students, free and reduced lunch participants and low-English-proficiency students.

According to the original state projections, Columbia is considered “hold harmless,” which means the district will receive a fixed amount of funding after a certain point. This is primarily because the district’s money-per-pupil, adjusted for special education and other factors, comes out higher than the state-mandated minimum of $6,117 per-pupil. The district has an estimated weighted attendance of 15,890.52 students, and spends an adjusted $6,989 per student.

Cowherd said that under the new numbers being submitted today, Columbia will no longer be considered hold harmless and will become eligible for more money. However, the district will receive significantly less over the next seven years than the $1.5 million to $2.2 million it would have received each year under the old formula, Cowherd said.

The approval of the new formula comes after months of revisions and debate in both houses of the state legislature. The debate was mostly between representatives from rural and urban districts, Robb said, with the final vote falling on partisan lines. Robb served on the joint committee, led by Senate floor leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, that formed the new plan. Robb said the old formula had to be replaced because the state cannot afford to fully fund it. He also said the old formula favors wealthier urban districts at the expense of rural districts, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit by nearly half of Missouri’s school districts.

Robb said the new formula is both more equitable and more affordable because it uses the need-based approach.

“We’ve made a very serious commitment to K-12 education,” Robb said. “I think we’re pretty satisfied with how the new formula worked out.”

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said there were several problems with the new plan, specifically that the state has put no new money into funding the formula. He also said the creation of the new plan has not stopped the lawsuit over the old formula, as it was designed to do. In addition, Harris said that because the formula is phased in over seven years, today’s sixth graders will never see its effects.

Cowherd said the district is in the beginning stages of examining the formula and its implications for Columbia schools. He said the board and administrators will begin the process of reviewing the budget and setting priorities in the fall.

“We’re still looking at where to go next,” Cowherd said. “The challenge for next year is to figure out how to phase all this stuff in and still maintain our school achievement focuses.”

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