Despite cut, funding for schools expected to increase

Friday, May 16, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As a group, public school districts will have more money to spend in the upcoming school year despite a $184 million cut in direct state financial aid, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder said Thursday.

Largely due to increased property values, Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said Missouri's 524 school districts are expected to generate an additional $280 million in local tax revenue, offsetting the state funding reduction for a net increase of $94 million.

That figure disputes the claim by Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, and some education groups that the state budget cuts will result in 3,100 teachers losing their jobs, Kinder said.

"The extreme claim by the other side that the sky is falling is absurd," Kinder said. "The facts point in a different direction."

Kinder said the estimates were based on research done by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Senate budget staff and the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Under the state budget plan for fiscal year 2004, which begins July 1, direct aid to schools would be reduced to roughly FY 2001 levels. Kinder said only 800 new teaching positions were created statewide during that period, further challenging the governor's layoff estimate, which until recently Holden had tabbed at 5,000 lost teaching jobs.

"Something doesn't add up here," Kinder said. "It is simple arithmetic."

The overall estimated growth in education funding doesn't take into account the financial situations of individual districts.

For example, wealthier districts tend to receive little state money but have high property values, which determine local tax revenue. As a result, those districts might receive a greater share of the statewide growth in local tax proceeds.

Gary Sharpe, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said the state cuts will have a negative impact. Rising costs of implementing federal and state mandates, special education and providing health care to employees have driven up district expenses.

"Things do not stay at the same level," Sharpe said. "To compare one year to another, it takes additional money to stand still."

MASA, which represents officials at most Missouri districts, is preparing an independent estimate of the number of teaching positions that could be eliminated because of the state cuts. Sharpe said that study should be completed next week.

mpowers@semissourian.com

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