Formula change may cost schools

Friday, June 3, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- About two dozen Southeast Missouri school districts stand to receive less additional money than originally anticipated from the state's new education funding formula because of a change in how revenue from a statewide sales tax is distributed, according to some education groups.

The Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools, the smaller of two groups of public school districts suing the state over shortcomings in Missouri's existing funding system, says that a component of the new education funding formula will lead to a redistribution of $140 million over seven years. The Missouri National Education Association, one of the state's leading education lobbying groups, shares that view.

At issue is revenue from Proposition C, a 1-cent education sales tax approved by Missouri voters in 1982. That money currently is distributed based on actual student attendance. Under the new formula, the revenue will be allocated using "weighted" pupil counts that bolster the totals for districts with disproportionately high numbers of disadvantaged students, including those who are poor, disabled or are non-native English speakers. As a result, the coalition and education association say 290 districts -- more than half of all those in Missouri -- will get less money than previously expected.

In a news release, the education association characterized this as an "error" in the legislation. A memo dated Wednesday from Senate researchers who worked on the bill to Senate Majority Floor Leader Charlie Shields, one of the measure's chief architects, disputes that claim.

In the memo, the researchers note the new policy was included in every draft of the bill and is consistent with its overall philosophy, which aims to give more weight to the needs of students in a given district when it comes to distributing state aid.

"The end result of this decision is simple: Districts with higher populations of students with certain characteristics ... will receive a slightly higher portion of the Prop C funds than districts with lower populations of such students," the researchers wrote.

Shields was traveling Thursday and couldn't be reached for comment. His office provided the memo as his response to the issue.

According the coalition analysis, the Jackson School District would take the biggest hit among area districts. For the 2006-2007 school year, the first year the new formula begins to take effect, Jackson expected to receive $772,507 in additional state money. The Proposition C change, however, would trim that amount by $207,213.

Jackson superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said uncertainty surrounds the new formula.

"This is something people apparently did not know about," said Anderson about the Proposition C change. "Who knows what else is out there?"

The Jackson district isn't a member of the coalition but is part of the other group pursuing the lawsuit, the Committee for Educational Equality.

While the overall bill, which makes sweeping revisions to the state's public school funding system, received much debate before the legislature passed it last month, the Proposition C issue wasn't raised until after the fact. The measure is awaiting Gov. Matt Blunt's signature.

Although the bill's supporters promised it would increase state funding for most districts while harming none, the coalition and education association say 24 districts would suffer cuts from the 2005-2006 school year in the 2006-2007 term because of the Proposition C change. None of those districts are in Southeast Missouri.

"Schools were given the assurance that no district would lose money under a new formula. That promise needs to be kept," said David Glaser, coalition chairman and an administrator in the Rockwood School District in St. Louis County.

However, the Senate memo says that when all formula factors are taken into account, no district would see its funding reduced.

The bill is SB 287.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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