Lobbyists against extra provisions in school funding bill

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Education lobbyists were largely united Tuesday in urging a House committee to discard extraneous provisions the Senate added to legislation that would rewrite Missouri's formula for allocating state money to public schools.

Several lobbyists said numerous Senate amendments detract from the bill's main purpose, which they support, and some are controversial enough to jeopardize its chances for passage.

"The amendments, we believe, are totally off target," said Ron Langford of the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

Among the provisions suggested for elimination are those concerning oversight of charter schools, greater disclosure of administrator compensation and authorization of a study of tax assessment practices.

The bill's primary objective is to create a fairer system for state funding of public schools. The legislation would replace Missouri's existing education formula, which is driven by local tax levies, with one based on serving student needs.

Using average spending by Missouri's most academically successful districts as a base, the formula would establish a minimum funding level of $6,117 per student, although districts could still use local revenue to spend more. Current per-pupil spending by district ranges from $4,771 to $13,379.

Districts with high numbers of students who are poor, have special needs or aren't proficient in English would be able to leverage additional state money, as would districts in counties where wages exceed the statewide average.

To achieve full funding, however, the new formula would require the state to spend another $689 million above the $2.4 billion it currently allocates to local districts. The extra money would be phased in over five years, beginning with the 2006-2007 school year. How the state would generate that revenue remains to be determined.

The House Special Committee on Education Funding plans on Monday to make changes and vote to send the bill to the full chamber.

Mike Wood of the Missouri State Teachers Association urged the committee to consider providing more money to the state's smallest school districts. Of the 41 districts that would receive no funding boost under the bill, all but one fall into that category.

To address that concern, the Senate included a provision to set aside $10 million for grants to districts with fewer than 300 students.

"We'd like to see more direct aid as part of the formula," Wood said.

The bill is SB 237.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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