JEFFERSON CITY - Republican senators are beginning to attack Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposals for education -- arguing it's not enough.
"I think the state of Missouri is going to get sued," warned Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, about the state's failure to fully fund the School Foundation Formula. "I am extremely concerned about that."
The governor has recommended $18 million increase in the $3 billion program that provides state funds to local public schools. But the legal formula requires a higher level of funding to work.
For the current fiscal year, state funding is $43 million short. And for next fiscal year, "if you wanted to fully fund the formula, there would need to be a $106 million increase," State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said.
Those differences are the basis for predictions from Schaefer and other Republican senators that school districts could file suit.
Schaefer said not reaching the amount needed to cover the Formula Foundation is a "$43 million brick wall that someone's going to collide with."
Luebbering, who spoke at Monday night Senate Appropriations Committee session acknowledged public schools would undergo repercussions due to underfunding. The impact of the cuts would mean more students in classes and freezing salaries for teachers.
Money from the Gaming Commissions, which the state uses to fund the Foundation Formula, has gone down in the past year due to the economic recession and gambling competition in other states. Since the expected revenue for education has decreased in the past year, she said Nixon's increase is still generous considering the necessary cuts. But the funding still falls short.
Gov. Nixon shared a different view during his State of the State address last year.
"Even those in these difficult economic times, we must fully fund the education Foundation Formula," Nixon said in last year's speech. "That is not negotiable."
President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the current school funding system in 2005.
"We believe that it ought to be fully funded," Shields said. "That's the commitment the legislature made." Shields echoed Schaefer's warning about the potential of a lawsuit if the legislature does not fully fund the formula.
Under the provisions in the formula law, the Education Department must formulate the minimum required to educate each student in the student's district.
The department calculates the amount from observing districts with high performing schools and investigates how much the districts spent to educate students, and the amount becomes the state minimum. Without the minimum to pay for education costs, the state will underfund school districts.
"It's an issue that needs to be resolved," Shields said.