Missouri education officials seek fix for school funding formula

Friday, June 8, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri education officials are planning adjustments to the state's school funding formula in hopes of preventing drastic swings in the amount distributed among the state's more than 500 school districts.

Shortfalls in the formula have prompted concerns that money distribution problems will lead to a significant boost for some districts while others suffer. Missouri lawmakers adjourned last month unable to agree on changes to the formula despite having made it a priority when the legislative session started in January.

Seeking to minimize large shifts in money among districts, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it plans to keep at the current level the part of the formula that calculates how much should be spent educating each student.

That calculation, called the state adequacy target, currently is $6,131 per student and was to increase to $6,423 next school year and $6,716 the following year.

The state education department plans to distribute the money that's available to districts. But those payments are likely to be prorated because officials estimate the formula still will have a shortfall of 8 percent to 9 percent -- even after the state adequacy target is frozen.

If the budget situation improves and the funding gap declines, the education department first would cease prorating the school payments. Then, the agency would increase the state adequacy target based upon available money.

Ron Lankford, deputy education commissioner, said Thursday that the department's plan is intended to reduce the amount of money shifting among school districts. He said more districts will end up with a cut than an increase.

"All school districts are sharing in the lack of funding," Lankford said. "Even those that are gaining, the amount the law says they should be getting is reduced."

Missouri lawmakers included a little more than $3 billion for the school funding formula for the state operating budget that takes effect July 1. State education officials estimate the formula could end up with a shortfall of $700 million by the following budget year.

The current school funding formula was adopted in 2005 and was designed to be linked less to local property values and taxes and more to a per-pupil spending target.

The revised formula is being implemented in phases and is scheduled to take full effect for the next school year.

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