JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri doesn't have enough money to give public schools all the funding they are supposed to receive. However, there is nothing in the law that tells the state how to decide which schools' funding should be cut.
Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, is sponsoring a bill that would attempt to "minimize the hurt" schools feel in the 2013 fiscal year. The state is currently $268 million below what is needed to fully fund Missouri's schools and Thomson said that deficit could continue to grow if no action is taken.
"What we're trying to do is minimize the winners and losers," Thomson said. He admitted that not everyone will win when there are funding cuts but his bill attempts to make the process as fair as possible.
The bill treats school districts that have not experienced any state funding increases differently than districts that have received more money from the state since 2005. Both types of schools would receive less than their full funding under the legislation, but the rate at which cuts are made would be less extreme than without the bill, Thomson said.
It does this by using a "negotiated average" to decide which schools will not receive full funding in 2013. Schools who have not experienced an increase in funding in the last seven years will have a smaller percentage of cuts than districts that have received an increase in funding.
Thomson said the bill attempts to protect rural schools from losing funds — they would fall into the category of schools that have not received a funding increase. These schools, called "hold harmless" in the language of the bill, receive the same amount of funds annually per student. Schools that have experienced increases in funding, also called "formula districts," have their funding recalculated every year to account for growth.
"The (schools) that I'm trying to protect are the 100 or something small schools that don't have much local wealth," Thomson said. "And have had no funding increase since 2005."
This bill is part of one of the biggest education policies being addressed in the current session — the foundation formula— the formula to determine the amount of state funds that public schools receive.
The General Assembly is attempting to decide how to distribute funds fairly when there are no guidelines about how to make those choices when there is not enough money. Without a change to the law this session, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has to make these decisions without legal authority, which could result in funding increases for some schools and decreases for others, Thomson said.
The current formula calculates school funding based on student attendance, property tax rates and local wealth. The formula also incorporates an "adequacy target," calculated by finding the average annual spending per student and recommending that as the minimum spending for all districts.
Thomson said he wants to avoid a drastic change in funding which could result from the department dropping the adequacy target to compensate for inadequate funding. The technical changes to the formula are difficult to understand, Thomson said, but it's not necessary to understand them to vote on the issue. Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she voted in favor based on how the change would influence the funding her district receives.
Thomson said this type of voting is dangerous because the simulations used by districts do not always accurately reflect the possible changes in funding.
Thomson's bill was passed out of committee last week and will move to the House for debate.