State lawmakers weigh options for school cuts

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Incentives for high state test scores, the elimination of summer school and standardized property assessments were among ideas a group of Missouri legislators discussed Tuesday with the aim of revamping the state's education funding system.

The Joint Interim Committee on Education, a 14-member group made up of state lawmakers, met with superintendents from around 30 Southeast Missouri school districts Tuesday at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.

The committee has been charged with conducting a study of equity and adequacy under the state's complex formula, known as the foundation formula, for distributing aid to public schools.

John Jones and Otto Fajen, both former state employees who were involved in the 1993 establishment of the existing formula, presented the committee with several solutions for improving the funding system.

Jones now works for the Missouri State Teachers Association; Fajen is with the Missouri National Education Association. However, the two stressed that their presentation did not represent the views of either of those organizations.

Among the recommendations was standardizing local property assessments by allowing for partial reassessment every year, instead of every other year as is currently done. That recommendation included having state-appointed, instead of elected, assessors to avoid conflicts of interest between school districts and constituents.

Another cutback, Jones said, could be made with the $129 million currently spent on summer school funding. School districts receive double the money for student attendance during summer school.

Other options included removing the hold harmless clause, which limits the amount of state aid districts such as Cape Girardeau receive, distributing money on a per-pupil basis only and requiring that all districts have a $2.75 property tax rate.

"All the things thrown out are politically difficult because there are winners and losers," said committee chairman Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.

Budget shortfalls

For the past two school years, the foundation formula has not been fully funded because of state budget shortfalls, leaving school districts with less state aid than they would normally receive.

The solutions proposed by Jones and Fajen were short-term. Shields said in the long run, the state hopes to end local property tax funding for schools and instead depend on a statewide income tax.

Local superintendents said they weren't sure what they expected to get from the meeting, but heard positive and negative solutions.

"The crux of the problem is a shortage of revenue. I didn't even hear any discussion about that," said Dr. Ron Anderson, Jackson superintendent. "They're just talking about moving around the money that's already there."

The committee is scheduled to conclude its study in February.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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