03 May Missouri’s Core School Funding to Remain Flat (MO)May 3, 2010
By: Jessica BockSource: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
For years, Missouri’s K-12 schools have enjoyed increases in funding from the state — a growth of more than $1.5 billion in the past decade.
That ended this week when lawmakers approved a budget with flat funding in core school spending.
Still, that news was greeted with a dose of optimism by some education officials, who point to state after state where education spending has been slashed by 10 percent or more. Illinois, for example, faces a budget crisis that threatens to lop hundreds of millions of dollars from schools.
"I think we all recognize the difficult situation that the Legislature found themselves in," said Kevin Supple, chief financial officer for the Francis Howell School District. "They protected us the best they can."
Even so, with schools facing rising expenses to cover teacher salaries, supplies and utilities, many expect districts across the state to slash jobs.
"This flat funding is really going to hit some of our districts very hard, particularly those that are still growing," said John Urkevich, executive director of Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis. "Districts are looking at every single thing they possibly can short of personnel cuts, but eventually, it gets down to looking at those also."
Perhaps more significantly, the budget crunch is at least temporarily forcing the state to delay a promise made three years ago to pour an additional $800 million into schools over seven years. Declining state revenue has stalled those plans.
The state’s formula to distribute money to schools, adopted in 2005, had called for an increase of more than $100 million this year to education. Instead, it will remain at about $3 billion. And the outlook for catching up with that growth is grim.
"Education has been one of the priorities. What we’re trying to do now is keep it level, and hopefully that will happen," said Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, a member of the House appropriations committee for education. "Schools are going to see their reserves go down. But they know when the state is suffering, they have to participate in that."
The freeze will hurt some districts more than others. Bayless, for example, stood to gain roughly $3,400 per pupil in those seven years, more than any district in the St. Louis region. Ladue, like most districts in the metro area, relies less on state funding and more on local property tax revenue. Its estimated per-pupil increase was just $43 for the same time period.
The Legislature’s plan for level spending is for the coming school year, but districts already are dealing with a 2 percent cut in state funding for the current school year. And more cuts could occur next year if revenue comes up short.
"It’s devastating, and it will be more so if the situation get worse," said Bayless Superintendent Maureen Clancy-May.
Many districts have planned cuts as they prepare their 2010-11 budgets, leaving some open positions vacant, delaying purchases of computers and buses and dropping summer school.
Missouri’s $23.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $5.3 billion overall for elementary and secondary education, a 1 percent drop from the previous year. That will trickle down to school districts in significant cuts to the Parents as Teachers program and transportation reimbursement from the state.
And although the core spending will stay level, superintendents are still losing sleep about proposed changes in how that money will be distributed.
Wallace said an amendment he added to a House bill passed Thursday in effect spreads cuts among all 523 Missouri school district if the formula comes up short.
"This is a plan to get through a time when we don’t have the revenue to fully fund the formula," Wallace said Thursday on the House floor.
The amended bill would in effect freeze the formula for the next two fiscal years, allowing school districts to anticipate how much state funding they will receive, Wallace said. The bill now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers have debated similar provisio ns.
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, questioned whether the proposed changes were simply giving lawmakers a pass.
"I think we’re pushing aside our obligation to move education ahead in this state," he said. "We have to keep the bar where it is."