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Education Funding Study Begins

September 03, 2003
By: Drew Bratcher
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Repeal of local school dependence on the local property tax was one of the issues raised by the chairman of a special legislative committee that began Tuesday reviewing school financing.

"We have a daunting task ahead of us," said Chairman Charlie Shields, R-St. Charles. The task is to produce a report outlining a better method for school funding in time for the general assembly session, which begins in January.

With calculators in hand, legislators labored through the Foundation Formula -- the legal formula that is used to allocate state funds among Missouri school districts.

"I have gone through it time after time, and it's impossible," said Sen. Doyle Childers, R-Reed Springs. "I doubt if there are a dozen people who really could sit down and have an intelligent conversation about it."

The Foundation Formula is the complex equation last revised in 1993 to help equalize per-student expenditures among school districts. It has come under intense scrutiny in recent months as the disparity between urban and suburban/rural funding has come to the forefront of the state budget crisis.

Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, said that there are school districts losing populations as a whole in rural areas while expenses stay the same. The formula includes criteria that penalizes districts for having fewer pupils and rewards districts for levying higher property taxes.

"Typically formulas have about a 10 year lifespan," Shields said. "This one has probably run its course."

The committee's efforts come as a lawsuit is being put together by more than 140 Missouri school districts challenging the funding system.

The lawsuit, expected to be filed later this fall, has put the pressure on lawmakers. "If we don't produce something, we'll find state funding will be set by the courts," Childers said.

However, questions remain on what to produce. "Are we putting enough money in to adequately fund the schools in the state?," Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield asked. "If so, it comes down to us coming up with a distribution system. If not, we've got to come up with additional funds."

Shields has suggested moving away from property tax toward income tax in order to fund schools.

The 1993 Foundation Forumla revision, along with the state's last major tax increase package, were passed in response to a similar lawsuit by school districts that had been upheld by lower courts.

The next committee meeting will include a presentation by University of Missouri Economist Ed Robb. The committee will then host several sessions across the state which will include public testimony.