JEFFERSON CITY - The tug of war between the Missouri House and Senate over the state's foundation formula for education is over. But the battle over how much money elementary and secondary education will receive in next year's budget is just beginning.
A bill changing the formula that determines how money is distributed to local districts received final approval from the Missouri Senate on Monday. The change, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would lower how much it would take to fully fund the formula.
It's uncertain exactly how much lower it would take for full funding under Graham's bill. Earlier estimates were $175 million, but House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education now believes full funding would under Graham's bill would be $150 million. Either estimate is down from the approximately $219 million it would take for full funding under the current formula.
Speaking in support of the change, Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said he believes lawmakers will put whatever money they can into public schools and that a change in the formula wouldn't drive how much money they receive.
"Our position is meaningless. What matters is the amount of money you appropriate," Jacob said.
Some of the most vocal opposition to the House position came from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon and Appropriations Chair, said full funding of the formula under Graham's bill would force cuts in other areas.
"We're going to decide on whether it's old people or kids," Russell said. "We're going to decide whether it's essential services or some fat formula for somebody that thinks that they have to have it their way."
Last week House and Senate difference over how much the formula should be lowered emerged as an obstacle threatening on-time completion of the state's budget.
Kreider refused to accept Senate amendments to Graham's bill that lowered the formula further, and held up the appointment of conferees to some House-Senate Appropriations committees until an agreement was struck. With Friday's deadline for completion of the budget looming, those appointments became more critical each day.
Last Wednesday the issue seemed resolved when a conference committee on Graham's bill recommended going with the House position. Some Senators rejected that recommendation, and asked for further negotiations with the House. On Monday the House voted not to negotiate further and the conference committee's original recommendation returned to the Senate. Kreider, who was in the Senate chamber for portions of the debate, indicated he would probably continue his refusal to appoint conferees to the remaining budget bills until the Senate acted on Graham's bill.