JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Senate approved $189 million in federal money for local school districts, ending a near two month-long standoff with the House.
The House passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 24 but the Senate had not taken up the measure until Monday.
Bill supporters said not passing the legislation would be an unfair burden to local school districts. Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said failure to pass the money would cost the school district $3 million.
The chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said it was important to pass the bill now since the funds expire on June 30 and must be spent solely on education.
"Our commitment was to keep funding for K-12 the same in 2012 as it was in 2011," Schaefer said.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, opposed the bill and said this money is not being spent to increase education funding.
"We are filling a budget hole somewhere else in our budget. We are funding other programs so we don't have to make hard decisions and make cuts," Lembke said.
Lembke said by passing the federal funds, the starting point for education funding next year could be lower. Lembke had earlier opposed using federal money to fund unemployment benefits, but relented after compromising with Senate leaders to reduce the number of weeks Missouri businesses pay for the unemployment benefits and cutting an additional $250 million in stimulus money.
Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, led the opposition to the bill on Monday. Cunningham said she does not want to keep giving school districts more money without also demanding higher student performance.
"This money is so precious and again the achievement is absolutely flat," Cunningham said.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, agreed with Cunningham.
"I think this is a great opportunity for us to show our tough love ... and I think those who are receiving state dollars at that point will then start to understand that these aren't dollars to play around with," Chappelle-Nadal said.
Debate on the bill focused on the lack of student achievement, but the state's fiscal policy was also discussed.
"I disagree with the fiscal policy we are putting in place relative to the utilization of one time funds without having any basic plans for what we do next year ... basically in my humble opinion is kind of kick the can down the road and deal with whatever hole we have," said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.
Revenue for the state's foundation formula, the mechanism for money distribution to school districts, has been held steady for the past few fiscal years despite decreases in state revenue.
Cunningham, along with 5 other senators voted against the proposal, while the remaining 28 senators voted in its favor. The bill now moves to Gov. Nixon's desk.