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08 April 2010

Nodler: Advocating for Fairness in School Funding

Last week, the Senate passed House Bill 2014, a supplemental appropriations bill. Every year, the Legislature passes this sort of bill to cover budget issues that were not passed or were not funded to the level of being sufficient for the whole year. However, this year, the House version of the bill contained a provision that would lessen the funding promised to many of Missouri’s school districts. While the Senate Appropriations Committee tried to correct the language, an amendment was passed when the bill reached the Senate floor that returned the language to the House position. The provision negatively affects many of the school districts in Southwest Missouri, which is why I voted “no” on the amendment.

The provision affects 372 of the state’s 523 school districts and relates to foundation formula funding. The foundation formula was revised in 2005 to distribute money to Missouri schools using a formula based on student needs, not property values. The new formula was designed to be phased in over five years. However, the law did not include guidance on how to deal with a shortfall of any sort. The problem we face now is that the state is facing a serious budget crunch, and the Legislature is struggling to find a way to balance the budget while also funding education.

When the new formula took effect, most schools in Missouri received an increase in funding. Some school districts in areas with particularly high property tax revenue did not receive an initial increase in their foundation funding and have not been getting increases since 2005 as the formula has been phased-in. The bill as it currently stands would exempt these schools from having to face any funding cuts, even as most school districts in the state are facing a budget crunch. The $43 million in school funding that is being trimmed from the current fiscal year’s spending will not be spread across all schools, but will instead apply to select districts in the state.

The facts of our fiscal situation are not pleasant. Recent revenue numbers for March show that collections are down 17.8 percent compared to last year and year-to-date revenue collections are down by 13 percent. Spending throughout the state must be cut so that we have a balanced budget for both the current year and the upcoming fiscal year. However, in cases when tough choices must be made, we should act fairly, and exempting 151 schools from having to face cuts every other school in the state has to deal with is unacceptable. We must not let this policy of holding certain school districts to a different funding standard continue as we plan the state’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

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