Education funding criticized in lawsuit
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Education funding criticized in lawsuit

Date: February 8, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 287

JEFFERSON CITY - In a new stage of the fight over how Missouri funds it's public schools, the key-writer of the state's current education funding law testified before a Cole County Judge Thursday.

The legal battle centers around a Senate bill that passed in 2005 which changed the formula lawmakers use to determine how much money schools should get per student.

About half of Missouri school districts are involved in the suit saying the state does not distribute public education funding fairly. The 236 school districts who are members of the Committee for Education Equality, filed a case against the state of Missouri and other state organizations in 2004 worried about the amount of money for schools and the equality of how it is divided.

The Committee originally claimed in their suit that the state's formula for boosting aid, created in 1993, was outdated.

"The old formula was $800-900 million behind," said Alex Bartlett, the committee's lawyer.

In response to the lawsuit, the legislature passed in 2005 a measure sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields, R- St. Joseph, that changed the formula for distributing state funds among the various school districts based on expected increases in state appropriations for education.

"The idea behind the formula was a tally that attempts to raise all districts a level up," Shields said in his testimony Thursday. "Districts will not receive less then they did before."

But in an interview during a break in Thursday's court session, Bartlett said most of the committee's districts would be happier using the old formula if it had been fully funded. 

Under the new formula school districts receive $1,617 per student.

"Columbia is already spending much more then that now," Bartlett said. 

Shields said the purpose of the formula was not to take away funding, but to give all districts a financial boost.

"The idea was to craft a formula that was based on student need, determine what the student need was and that is exactly what the formula does, that is what it was designed to do," Shields said.

Bartlett said that schools only get about $100 more per student following the formula change. He said the cost of living in Missouri has gone up more then the amount per student has.

Shields said the new formula wasn't an attempt to increase funding, except to move everyone up.

One key point for the committee is that the new formula is based on figures from the 2004-2005 school year and each year those same figures will be used to determine school funding. The formula does not adjust for inflation every year but rather every two years.

Bartlett said the committee is worried this means schools will not get more money as time passes.

The committee is also upset that the state no longer allocates money for new buildings, but Shields said this is not new.

Shields said as far as he knows the state has never given districts money for new schools. Instead, raising money is up to individual districts and local taxes.