New school formula does not shortchange any district

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools, a group of Missouri school districts suing the state, and an education lobbying group, the Missouri National Education Association, are claiming that more than half of Missouri's school districts will be harmed by an "error" in the new school funding formula.

At issue is how Proposition C money is distributed. Prop C, adopted in 1982, is a 1-cent sales tax for education.

Half the revenue was earmarked to roll back local property taxes, and the other half was to put toward public schools. Many school districts' voters have opted to waive the rollback and devote the entire tax to education.

Under the current formula, the money is distributed based on actual student attendance plus a double count for summer school.

The new formula calls for this money to be allocated based on attendance, but with weight factors such as free and reduced lunch, special education and low English proficiency.

Therefore, the rewritten formula directs slightly more Prop C funds toward districts that have higher populations of students with these characteristics.

This policy decision was included in every draft of the legislation. Yet now, nearly a month after the legislation was sent to the governor, the MNEA claims that it "discovered a significant but little known provision to the school funding formula bill."

Throughout the legislative session, MNEA went on record supporting the higher weighting factors in order to send more funds to districts possessing more students in the weighting factor areas.

Now they refer to the policy decision as an "error" and imply that it was a result of the haste with which lawmakers approached the legislation.

Both the MNEA and the CFES claim that this policy alteration will result in 24 districts receiving less money than they did the year before. This assertion is completely false. While some districts will receive slightly less Prop C money in fiscal year 2007 than in fiscal year 2006, when the additional formula payment is added to the Prop C money, no school district in Missouri will receive less money.

By all accounts the new formula takes great strides toward greater equity and adequacy for our children's education, regardless of where they live in Missouri.

Passing this formula was something nobody thought could be done. We wrote the new formula not in response to the lawsuit, but because the old formula was broken.

We didn't need litigation to tell us we, as a state, needed a better approach to how we fund public education. In addition to these changes, the legislature increased the minimum salary for public school teachers.

We have made great strides toward solving the problems of inadequacy and inequity, and now it is my hope that school districts all across the state will drop out of the lawsuit.

I believe that when school districts take a look at what the formula really does, they will make a decision based on the best interests of their district and Missouri taxpayers and drop out of the lawsuit.

Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau represents the 27th District in the Missouri Senate.

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