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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 9/9/2009 - Archived File

After years of legal battles, Missouri's Supreme Court rejected a challenge to how the state funds public education.

The lawsuit, which began in 2004, involved more than 200 school districts across the state. The districts claimed the state failed to fund education at levels required by the Missouri Constitution and had not allocated funds equitably among the state's 524 school districts. In 2005 the state legislature adopted a new formula for allocating funds to local schools. The case evolved to apply to the new funding formula.

The lawsuit also argued that the formula violated equal-protection laws.

According to the state constitution, the state must set aside 25 percent of state revenue to fund public education. It also gives the state the flexibility to provide additional funding when a community can't raise sufficient money through local taxes.

The lawsuit argued that it is not equal for the state to provide more money for certain districts.

The state Supreme Court's Sept. 1 decision states that this flexible framework is a constitutional way to fund public schools. This means that while the state must provide equal educational opportunities, it is not required to provide equal funding under the constitution.

It also states that although Missouri is required to set aside 25 percent of it's state revenue, the constitution does not require the state to adequately fund public education.

The decision states that the constitution does not require Missouri to provide the same amount of money for each student.

The law that every student should be funded equally was removed from Missouri's constitution in 1875. In order to change the constitution a resolution must be approved by majority vote in both the House and Senate. It then must be passed by statewide vote.

Because the state is not required to fund schools equally, per-pupil spending can vary by district.

Five judges agreed the school aid formula was constitutional and adequate. Judge Michael Wolff partially agreed and Judge Richard Teitelman did not vote.

Get a story from earlier in the week here. [ ]

Sixty Army and Air National Guard soldiers were honored at a Sept. 3 ceremony in Jefferson City. 

The members of the Agri-Business Development Team III (ADT III) will leave for Camp Atterbury base in Indiana pending overseas deployment to Afghanistan in November.

Gov. Jay Nixon attempted to convey a positive message to the troops as he addressed the crowd gathered at the Ike Skelton Training Site: "We look forward to welcoming you back to the Show Me State in a few short months."

The deployment of ADT III comes after three Missouri servicemen were killed in Afghanistan in the month of August. A total of 20 soldiers from Missouri have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, which began in October 2001, according to the Department of Defense.

Get the full story here. [ ]

As swine flu spreads across the nation, Missouri's state employees are laying down plans to keep vital services like jails and mental hospitals running effectively.

In Missouri's 21 prisons, the population is susceptible to disease because of their close proximity to one another as well as their interaction with the outside world through guards and visitors.

Hospitals are also preparing for a surge of patients, but hospital officials are strongly encouraging H1N1 patients to go to their primary care provider before heading to the hospital, said Dave Dylan, spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association.

"Most hospitals have some degree of vacancy in beds any given day," Dylan said. "But the vast majority won't be sick enough to need hospitalization."

Dylan said the key to keeping a hospital appropriately staffed, relies on doctors taking common sense procedures before they can be vaccinated.

For Missouri's public schools, keeping students in class plays a hand in ensuring schools get funding.

"Schools are reimbursed or paid for every hour a child is present in school, so better attendance is better for the school district," said Jim Morris, the spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In Jefferson City, three middle school students at Lewis and Clark Middle School -- which has a student enrollment of about 900 students -- have already been infected with the virus, and absences are climbing.

The University of Missouri has 48 known cases, while a spokesman at Missouri State University said "a couple of dozen" students there were confirmed to have swine flu.

Even with a lack of students, bus drivers and teachers, it's up to individual schools to shut down if they can't operate properly.

Get the complete story here. [ ] 

Get a story on how swine flu spreads and how Missouri's weather affects the flu here. [ ]

Missouri taxpayers will have to pay more than half a billion dollars into a pension fund for state employees during the next two years because of investment losses.

The state will have to kick in $375 million this current budget year and even more next year, according to State Budget Director Lina Luebbering. But how much the retirement fund will require next year still in doubt.

The state employee retirement system, one of the state's two pension funds, lost 19.1 percent on investments for the year beginning June 30, 2008, said Christine Rackers, manager of investing policy and communication for the system.

To offset this loss in money, state tax funds may need to contribute anywhere between 1.5 to 20 percent more in Missouri's next budget, depending on how the fund's board of trustees decides to budget for the increase.

Exactly how much money will be required from state's general revenue fund will be determined at a Sept. 17 meeting of the retirement systems board of trustees. Every 1 percent of increased taxpayer funding for the system equals about $20 million, said Kelvin Simmons, a member of the board and commissioner of the office of administration. More than half of this will come from the state's General Revenue fund.

Get the complete story here. [ ]

Upon entering the Missouri State Capitol building, many things catch one's eye: the Jefferson statue, the rotunda and ... a preponderance of bug traps?

Recently, each entrance to the Capitol building became home to two or three bug traps.

The building has been "infiltrated with water bugs," explained Keith Sappington, operations director for the Administration Office, which oversees facilities management for Missouri state government-owned buildings.

Lori Simms, a public information officer for the Office of Administration, described the situation as "a bit of a beetle problem." Simms was quick to add that they were not "Japanese" beetles. At least the invasion hasn't gone international. While the office has received no complaints about insects, the traps are a routine action taken by facilities management in years they notice an increase, Simms said.

After reviewing pictures of the insects, Richard Houseman, assistant MU entomology professor, said they "look more like ground beetles."

These specific ground beetles -- most likely of species harpalus pennsylvanicus -- feed on seed from mature grasses, according to Houseman. Higher than normal rainfall this summer and the last have led to "an abundance of food" for this type of beetle, which lives for two to three years.

While no statewide survey has been conducted, Houseman noted "2 or 3 samples" that have been sent to him over the last week as an indication that the beetles are more prevalent than in past years.

Rest safe tonight Missourians. Though beetles have your Capitol under siege, the problem is being taken care of.

For an extended and humorous version of this story, click here. [ ]

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Photo by Jeremy Essig