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House creates committee to address Foundation formula

February 03, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Another legislative committee was named Thursday to come up with a solution to the court challenge to the state's system for funding local schools.

The House speaker announced a special committee to examine the School Foundation formula -- composed of five members from urban districts, eight from suburban and 10 from rural districts.

Earlier this session, a joint House-Senate committee was named to review education funding.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by nearly one-half of the state's school districts charging the current system does not provide equity in per-student funding among the state's school districts.

Legislative leaders and the governor have acknowledged they do not believe the current system will withstand the court challenge.

The creation of a second committee to deal with the issue prompted some Democrats to complain that multiple committees will complicate the process of finding a solution.

But the chairman of the joint committee -- Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph -- said the new House committee was necessary because joint committees cannot send bills to the floor and said the joint committee should complete its work by the March 1.

"It's highly, highly likely that we'll be able to pass the Foundation bill," Shields said. "Everything is aligned to get this through."

Although he would not promise the General Assembly would pass the bill this session, freshman Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, who campaigned heavily on a plan to change education funding from property taxes to an earnings tax, predicted a fix by the end of the session, which he said would likely include some of his ideas.

"We will have a new funding formula at the end of the session that we will present to the governor," he said.

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he believed that only a freshman legislator would guarantee the passage of a bill. Separate groups working on the issue, Graham, charged, was beginning to slow the process.

"It doesn't seem that we have all the people needed to figure this out sitting in a room and it's (Gov. Matt) Blunt's, (House Speaker Rod) Jetton's and (Senate Pro Tem Michael) Gibbons job to get these people in the room," Graham said.

Although Shields said he liked the premise behind Robb's earnings tax idea, he doubted the committee would look to school funding that replaced the property tax base for funding from the local level.

"Those ideas might come to fruition sometime in the future, but I'm not sure we can get this year," Shields said.

Blunt repeatedly has said the school funding issue should be addressed this current legislative session, but House Democrats said it was disappointing to have no bill almost a month into the session.

"The important thing is to hear specifically what the governor's plan is so that we can get the process rolling before the session ends in May," said Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia.

Jetton named Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, to lead the new committee and pointed to what he said was wide diversity on the committee to help resolve what was a geographical and not partisan issue.

"This is a diverse group right here, and they are tasked with a very tough, tough job," Jetton said. "And all I ask from them is that they do their very best job and be as fair as I can."