Release the funding

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Last week, Gov. Bob Holden released $83 million in education funding, a portion of funding that he had previously withheld because of budget concerns.

That's good news for financially strapped schools. But it isn't enough.

The money Holden is giving to schools is basically a one-time windfall from the federal government in the form of a Medicaid reimbursement that Missouri otherwise wouldn't have received until the next fiscal year. The freed-up money amounts to a little more than one-third of the $222 million the governor withheld from education at the beginning of the state's fiscal year.

About $75 million will be released to local school districts beginning this month, with all that money passing through the formula that distributes basic state aid to schools. The other $8 million will be released to state colleges and universities starting in January.

School districts clearly could use more of the money withheld by Holden when he chose to balance the budget on the backs of schools. The withholding was a prudent precaution, one the governor is certainly entitled to make. But recent revenue trends and economic forecasts indicate it's time to give the schools all the money the legislature appropriated for them.

A few days after Holden's announcement, the state's revenue department released an encouraging report. Compared to last year, Missouri's net general revenue is up 5.6 percent for the fiscal year that began July 1. In November alone, Missouri's net general revenue rose 8 percent over last year, the report said.

The revenue report also showed that through the first five months of the fiscal year, individual income-tax collections were up 3.4 percent over last year. They were up nearly 8 percent compared to last November. Individual income taxes contribute about 60 percent of the state's annual general revenue. And experts say there's no reason to believe we won't see continued improvement, both in the economy and tax revenue.

So what does this tell us? The numbers support the recent calls by Republican legislative leaders who are asking the governor to release the rest of the money he withheld from education and some other state agencies.

There is no longer good reason for Holden to hold back this money that can be used to properly educate the state's students.

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