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School officials left wondering about funding

JEFFERSON CITY – With the announcement that a Missouri House panel had rejected a proposal to rewrite the state’s education funding formula on Thursday, area school officials and state legislators are left wondering what will happen next.

Rep. Steve Tilley, 106th District, R-Perryville, said he was in favor of the proposed funding formula.

“It was good for the schools in my district,” Tilley said. “Under the proposed formula the Farmington School District would have received an additional $3.3 million in revenue.”

Tilley said the battle lines for the proposed formula broke down to urban vs. rural.

“Whatever is decided next will have to be a compromise,” Tilley said. “The new formula will probably not be as good for rural schools as what was originally proposed. We will have to find a way to appease the city schools.”

Tilley said that state lawmakers are feeling the pressure to come up with a new school funding formula because school districts have sued the state alleging the current formula is unconstitutional.

“We have a funding formula that is broke,” Tilley said. “If we don’t address it, the courts will. We want to settle this before the courts do. If we pass a new formula we have the responsibility to fully fund it.”

Rep. Brad Robinson, 107th District, D-Bonne Terre, was not in favor of the new formula.

“The proposed funding formula was not going to be adequate for the rural schools,” Robinson said. “If we would have funded the proposed formula at 100 percent, it would still be underfunded. The school districts in the 107th District would have been underfunded.”

Robinson said when the formula goes back to committee the outcome could be even tougher on rural schools.

“This has turned into a rural vs. urban issue,” Robinson said. “I really wish they would fully fund the current formula.”

State. Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he preferred the Senate’s version of the funding formula anyway.

“We are going to have to rework the bill,” Engler said. “The House had a too expensive version of the formula anyway. Their version was $150 million more than the Senate’s. They were basing their formula on regions rather than on counties. The argument is going to between city and rural areas.”

Engler said he hopes a new formula will be approved by the end of the legislative session on May 13.

“Sitting around Jefferson City isn’t going to settle the differences,” Engler said. “However, it could take a special session to get this resolved.”

Engler said the fact that school districts have sued the state challenging the current funding formula hasn’t added any pressure to him or his colleagues in the Senate to get a new formula in place.

“I haven’t heard anyone say we have to get this passed because of the lawsuit,” Engler said. “With that said, we would prefer, however, that the legislature would get this done rather than it being done in a court.”

Central Superintendent Dr. Dave Stevens said he was pleased to see the proposed formula get voted down.

“I thought it was done rather hurriedly in light of the lawsuit against the state,” Stevens said. “I wasn’t in favor of the proposal as it was drafted. I definitely think it is a positive thing that legislators are looking at ways to rewrite the education formula. It has turned into a urban vs. rural issue. We need to treat all kids the same. We need a formula that is both adequate and equitable”

Bismarck Superintendent Dr. Damon Gamble said he has mixed feelings on the formula getting voting down.

“I recognize the fact that all politicians have their own constituents and they have to protect their interests,” Gamble said. “On one hand I was not overly excited about the proposed formula. On the other hand to hear it has been rejected and that it could become less desirable for the rural districts doesn’t excite me either. I thought there was more of a consensus among lawmakers on this. This severely damages the idea there will be a new formula proposed out of this legislative session.”

Farmington Superintendent Dr. W.L. Sanders said political party lines tend to break down over issues like this.

“In my past experience, when you get down to it and then look at how this is going to affect individual districts, party lines tend to break,” Sanders said. “Usually, changes to education financing will not be done until a court tells the legislature it has to do it. The bottom line is it is hard to please everybody and it is even more difficult to pass school financing.”

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