JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia legislators agreed Wednesday that education funding in the face of budget cuts is a main concern in the 2002 legislative session.
Wednesday marked the opening day of the 2002 legislative session. In his speech to the Missouri House of Representatives, House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, said that fully funding the Foundation Formula for public education is the no. 1 priority.
Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, chairman of the House Appropriations-Education committee said it will be difficult to fund this program. "We've got such a bad budget right now we're having to go in and find $220 million for the School Foundation Formula," he said. "With this budget, it's going to be hard to find that funding."
The Foundation Formula is the method by which state funds are allocated to local public schools. More than half of a typical school district's budget comes from state funds distributed through that formula.
Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said the Democratic Party's first priority is to fund public education. "This year's goal is to fully fund the foundation formula," he said. "That's going to be very hard to do."
It's also a commitment from the governor.
Interviewed while visiting legislative offices at the end of the day Wednesday, Gov. Bob Holden said his only absolute commitment is to fully fund the foundation formula, and he is looking at all other agencies for cuts.
"Nothing is off the chopping block," Jacob said.
Despite budget cuts exceeding $500 million this fiscal year, Columbia legislators are dedicated to funding public education. "I don't know about optimistic, but I'm committed to it," Graham said. "Come hell or high water, we're going to fully fund the foundation," Jacob said.
Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, said a main issue for Columbia will be the state budget and university funding. Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D- Columbia, voiced similar concerns. "It's tough," she said. "We'll do what we can to see that MU has what it needs, but it's not going to have it all."
Columbia legislators predict that budget cuts will affect funding for new capital improvement, building construction and maintenance projects at MU.
"On the negative side, I don't see any possibility for capital projects this year," Graham said.
Jacob said that funding primary and secondary education is the first priority, but higher education is a close second. "Education is the one we're trying to protect," he said.
The focus of the 2002 legislative session is clearly on funding education, but some legislators say they also are concerned about maintaining the status quo. Wilson said that in light of the budget cuts, she wants to focus on maintaining what we need to be healthy, safe, educated, and able to travel safely.
"This is not a year of expansion," said Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell in a statement to the full Senate.
Despite opening session remarks by President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, praising the Senate's bipartisan spirit, the lengthy debates Wednesday just to get a roll call going and adopt temporary rules do not foreshadow an easy session. On a day when procedures should have been purely technical, by 2:30 p.m. the Senate was running an hour behind schedule.