Missouri lawmakers move to fully fund schools, sort of

Missouri lawmakers move to fully fund schools, sort of

(Mo.) Lawmakers in Missouri have approved a spending plan for next year that would meet benchmark funding goals for schools for the first time while also triggering new early learning services.

It is unclear if Gov. Eric Greitens, who had back in February proposed a modest increase for school funding next year but a significant reduction in state support for school transportation, supports the nearly $29 billion budget bill.

“It’s fair to say that it’s a better funding picture than we expected,” said Brent Ghan, deputy executive director for the Missouri School Boards’ Association told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week.

Although the budget is a critical annual issue for the state’s public schools, much of the advocacy community was focused on opposing a voucher tax credit bill that had the backing of the governor. The measure, which died as the legislative session ended last week, would have established a tax credit scholarship program for families with students who have disabilities or children in foster care.

Like many states, lawmakers in Missouri have struggled to find the resources that educators say are needed to adequately serve the state’s 820,000 K-12 students.

In 2005, lawmakers adopted a minimum funding formula intended to ensure that all districts have at least a base amount of support from the state. The plan was to be phased in over seven years, but keeping up with the funding goal proved problematic.

Indeed, a 2014 report from the Missouri Budget Project found that while the Legislature increased its share of school expenses between 2000 and 2014 by almost 23 percent, the rate of inflation over the same period ran closer to 34 percent, leaving schools in an even worse position.

While the economic outlook for the Midwest has been favorable over the past two years, the Missouri state coffers are still awaiting recovery. Unemployment in Missouri has fallen under 4 percent in March with many parts of the business sector reporting job growth in the coming year.

That said, in approving the new budget which technically meets the full-school funding benchmark, lawmakers lowered the funding threshold by imposing a 5 percent cap on growth.

As a result, the funding increase to schools next year will be only $48 million, the smallest increase since 2013, according to the Post-Dispatch.

The new budget plan approved by the Legislature, however, does not include any new cuts to school transportation services.

It also triggered a $62 million increase in funding for preschool.

Last year, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received $13.8 million to help support preschools and child care centers, according to the Budget Project.

In 2014, only 2 percent of 3-year olds and 3 percent of 4-year olds, combined just 3,874 children, in Missouri were served.  In that same year, Missouri provided just $2,009 in funding per child enrolled.