Filibuster deal leaves schools worrying about funding cuts

Monday, April 11, 2011

As the political dance continues in Jefferson City, Mo., Southeast Missouri superintendents are left wondering what the standoff between the filibuster four and Gov. Nixon will mean to their district's budgets.

On Thursday, four Republican senators upset about federal spending ended a filibuster against legislation renewing long-term jobless benefits, after the Senate voted to cut state jobless benefits by six weeks, to a maximum of 20 weeks. In trade, Senate Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, pledged to help the filibustering senators identify $250 million of federal stimulus spending that can be cut from the state's budget.

It's a smaller number than the $300 million the group of lawmakers had sought the day before. They saw it as victory.

"My goal from the beginning was to send back as much stimulus money as possible -- borrowed money from the federal government -- and that's what we accomplished," said Sen. Jim Lembke, a St. Louis Republican, who led the group of filibustering senators.

What remains uncertain is where the cuts in federal funding would come. The Missouri School Board Association worries a big target would be the $189 million in stimulus money that Nixon has proposed to maintain public school funding at flat levels -- seen as a victory for Missouri school districts that have faced deep state funding cuts in recent years.

"The senators continue to argue that the federal money needs to be sent back to Washington to reduce the federal deficit even though refusing the federal money would do no such thing," said the MSBA's blog Capitol Watch. "So the supplemental funding bill for schools is still very much in jeopardy."

The association notes that the supplemental appropriations bill already has passed the House by a wide margin and would "undoubtedly pass" the Senate if allowed to come to a vote.

"What a shame," MSBA said.

Cape Girardeau's public schools could face a $400,000 hit if the federal money goes away, said Jim Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District.

He said these are nervous days for school administrators, but he's hopeful the school funding plan will survive.

"I'll feel better when the legislative session is over," Welker said.

Kevin Dunn said he's urged his staff to contact their senators and let them know how important the funding is. The superintendent of the Perry County School District said philosophically he agrees with the filibustering senators stance.

"I don't think the federal government should keep going into debt borrowing money," Dunn said. "That said, all 50 states got these appropriations, and if they don't use it, it's going to hurt our kids and our schools.

"This is not the proper place to make a political statement."


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