By Laura Slay
Ten years ago, in response to a court challenge related to how we fund our public K12 education, Missouri’s schools and taxpayers were handed a new formula for determining how much financial support each district would receive from the state. At that time, a growth cap of no more than 5% over two years was set is place to ensure that the legislature could fulfill its new fiscal obligations.
In 1992, voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed a portion of Missouri Lottery proceeds to be directed to K-12 public schools and state universities. In 2009, after voters removed loss limits at the casinos, the 5% cap on funding to schools was removed in anticipation of increased revenue from casinos. That increase was never realized.
Unfortunately, Lottery funds simply replaced general revenue funds and our public schools never saw an increase in funding. According to the former dean of UMKC’s Business School, O. Homer Erekson, “Legislators merely substituted general revenue funds with Lottery dollars so the schools don’t really gain any additional funding.” Since this time, the mere mention of the school funding formula has elicited a panoply of groans and eye-rolling, and triggered widespread consternation among legislators, educators, ed reformers and all who work on improving education in our state.
Last week, the Missouri legislature overrode Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of SB586 which reinstated the cap. Their concern was that without a cap, a few well performing districts would continue to drive the growth of the adequacy target. The adequacy target, in simple terms, is the dollar amount calculated in an effort to ensure that students’ basic learning needs are met and that the distribution of the funds is fair and equitable. “The adequacy target is the leverage point or focal point that drives the state funding,” Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said.
Without the caps the adequacy target has increased through the years. In response, the state froze the target claiming that the state was not been able to keep up with the increasing funding requirements. According to Senator Jay Wasson, SB586 would reduce a purported school funding shortfall from $456 million to $54 million. Wasson went on to explain that the $456 million shortfall was due to seven years of lottery funding that never found its way to increasing funding to public schools and that SB586 would have fixed the issue of Lottery “phantom money” that has never provided an increase in education funding.
St. Louis Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal also took aim at the Governor’s veto, saying that some of St. Louis’ most disadvantaged youth will suffer most from his actions. The bill also provides funding for early childhood education programs in charter schools in Kansas City and St. Louis. In St. Louis, one-third of public school children attend charter schools.
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