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Lobbyist Money Help  

Schools could get gambling money

February 11, 2003
By: Valerie C. Green
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - School districts would get funds directly from gambling money under a plan given initial approval by the House Tuesday.

The Republican-backed plan would create a new state funding stream for local schools separate from the School Foundation Formula, the current system for allocating money to school districts based on school-district financial need.

Gambling money that now goes to schools through that formula would, instead, be given to school districts based on the number of students enrolled.

"If education is our top priority, it is time to get back to the promise we gave the voters when they approved gambling money for education 10 years ago," said the bill's sponsor -- House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill. "This is a visible way to track gaming money directly to the schools."

The current Foundation Forumla gives extra funds to schools in greater financial need because of higher educational costs or lower tax bases. Deemocrats charge taking gambling money from that formula and allocating it only on the basis of enrollment would hurt poorer school districts.

"Like a flat tax, this fund hurts the poor and helps the advantaged," Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis Co, said.

About $200 million in gaming revenues were collected by the state this year. If this trust fund were in effect, each district would get $246 per student enrolled, Jetton said.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who serves on the House Education Approprations Committee, said this fund is setting up another promise that is "bound to be broken."

"We are, in effect, passing a broken promise today," Graham said.

The bill provides that gambling money would not be taken from the current system until the legislature fully funds the School Foundation Formula -- something the legislature accomplished last year, but will be unable to achieve this year because of the state's budget crisis.

Jetton's original bill would have delayed the change until 2007 when he said "the state budget gets back in line," but an amendment moved it up 2 years.

"If it's a good idea in 2007, it's a good idea for 2005," said Rep. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, who offered the amendment. "It's time to stand where we should have stood 10 years ago."

Many opponents to the fund said they don't know how they can plan for 2005 when the state is having a hard time funding the formula this year.

"We spent all day debating something that will never be implemented," Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said after six hours of floor debate.

Graham said the legislature was "putting the cart before the horse" by dealing with 2005 and beyond before dealing with the projected $350 million shortfall in this fiscal year, which Gov. Holden has threatened to make up by cutting education.

"I'm concerned with stopping education cuts this year before we can worry about future years," Graham said. "It is more important to stop the bleeding from our schools that are in dire trouble."

Supporters said the new funding approach would suppliment the money already given to schools through the Foundation Formula.

"This gives more no-strings-attatched money to schools to fill their needs," Jetton said. "This aditional money helps every kid in every school in this state."