JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri public schools have counted on double the state dollars for summer school students during the past ten years.
But those extra dollars may soon be gone.
Lawmakers are considering cutting the double funding -- worth an estimated $91 million -- to help plug the state's projected $1 billion budget gap for 2004.
House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said schools should not be allowed to double-count summer school students.
"The purpose behind the proposed elimination is to close a loophole," Bearden said.
But school officials warn cutting the funding may mean the end of summer school in several districts -- including Columbia.
Skip Deming, Columbia Public Schools assistant superintendent for instruction, said the district will offer summer school in 2003 because it has already advertised the program. But if double funding is cut, Deming said he can't guarantee the district will offer summer school in future years.
"There's only so much money so those are the kind of decisions we have to make," Deming said.
Lawmakers approved the double funding in 1993 to provide a financial incentive for districts to offer summer school, said Carl Sitze, supervisor of school improvement and accreditation with the Department of Education.
The plan worked.
In 1993, 175 of the state's 524 public school districts offered summer school and approximately 79,564 students participated. By 2002, 487 school district offered summer school and 240,000 students participated, Sitze said.
In Columbia, more than 4,000 students attended summer school last year, Deming said.
The rapid rise in summer school programs points to the effectiveness of the financial incentive, said Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-St.Louis, who chairs the House Education Appropriations Committee. However, she said, incentives "you usually think of as short-term."
She added that no one wants to cut education funding, but it must be done to solve the budget crises. And, she said, eliminating the extra summer school dollars is a way to spread out the multi-million dollar cuts while minimizing the impact.
But the Missouri State Teacher's Association (MSTA) disagrees.
Mike Wood, MSTA's director of government relations, said school districts are relying on promised state dollars to cover the cost of last year's summer school. Districts do not get paid for summer school sessions until after they are completed. Payments have not yet been issued for the 2002 session.
"Some of those districts that had summer school last summer in good faith expected to receive the double payment in 2003-04," Wood said. "I say it's half time and now we've changed the rules of the game."
The funding drop could also translate into larger class sizes during the regular school year, said Dale Carlson, director of finance for the Department of Education.
"Anything we do to cut dollars from schools most likely is going to contribute to larger class sizes and less teachers to hire," he said.