Some lawmakers want to reject $189M for schools

Friday, January 28, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's Republican-led legislature may ditch Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's plan for distributing an influx of federal money to public school districts. But Republicans aren't in agreement on whether to simply distribute the money differently or reject it altogether.

The school funding dispute intensified Thursday at the Capitol as lawmakers tried to figure out how Nixon's plan would affect their local districts.

At issue is a one-time $189 million education payment that Missouri is due to receive under a federal law intended to help financially strapped school districts keep or rehire teachers. The money must be distributed to elementary and secondary schools during the 2010-2011 school year.

Nixon has proposed giving the money to K-12 schools, but he wants to offset part of the federal influx with cuts to money previously appropriated to schools. The net result is that schools would get an additional $88 million this year but $112 million less next year when compared with their original budget for the 2010-2011 school year.

Nixon's administration wants schools to carry over money from this year into next year to help balance out the reduction.

But the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ryan Silvey, said Thursday that he will not follow Nixon's plan. Instead, Silvey said he intends to place the $189 million of federal money into Missouri's main school fund for use this year, supplanting an equal amount of state dollars that can be saved and distributed during the 2011-2012 school year. He said the net result should be a flat amount of funding for schools.

Some Republicans, however, don't want to accept the federal money.

Sen. Jim Lembke, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the extra education aid to states is contributing to the federal deficit and should be rejected as a matter of principle.

"The state of Missouri should take a stand," said Lembke, R-St. Louis. "If the federal government's not going to live within their means, then we've got to show them how to do that."

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he also is opposed to using the federal education money. Crowell said Missouri has relied on too many one-time patches for its budget and accepting the federal money would only delay cuts that would have to be made when the federal money is used up.

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, declined to say whether he believed Missouri should accept or reject the special allotment of federal money.

"We're going to have that debate," the senator said.

Silvey said he believes Missouri should use the federal money, because rejecting it only would redirect it to other states.

"Missourians are paying federal taxes regardless, so I think that Missourians -- and the state -- should avail itself of the federal taxes that our citizens have paid," Silvey said.

Nixon's budget director, Linda Luebbering, also advised against turning away the federal money.

"All that does is it shuts the schools out of $189 million that they could have," Luebbering said. "I don't think that's a solution."

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