JEFFERSON CITY - Republicans in the House Education Committee said Thursday they were making good on their campaign promise to ensure gambling revenue would be added to the basic state aid schools already recieve.
When voters approved riverboat gambling more than a decade ago, Rep. Bob Behnen, R-Kirksville, said residents "thought the gaming money was going to be going to education in addition to what they were receiving."
He added, "What we're doing here folks is keeping the record straight and keeping the promise."
The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, would create a new fund called the Classroom Trust Fund. Proceeds from riverboat gambling would be placed into this fund and distributed to school districts on a per-pupil basis beginning in 2007.
Before the money could be distributed, however, the Foundation Formula would have to be fully funded. The Foundation Formula is a mathematical equation used to allocate state dollars to the state's 524 public school districts. When the formula is fully funded, approximately 95 percent of Missouri's school districts receive equal amount of combined state and local funding.
Democrats on the committee criticized the bill, saying it is unlikely that schools would ever benefit from the fund since the state does not have the money to fully fund the formula.
"There will never be $1 put into this classroom trust fund," said Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia.
He also questioned whether lawmakers in the future might be tempted to change the definition of what constitutes "full funding" so less money would be required to meet the definition. In addition, the gambling revenue that currently benefits the Foundation Formula would now go into the new trust fund, requiring the state to find more general revenue dollars.
"I don't want the legislation to be an end-run around the Foundation Formula," Harris said.
Rep. D.J. Davis, D-Odessa, introduced an amendment that would ensure school districts would receive the same amount of classroom trust fund dollars per pupil as the previous year.
But Education Committee Chair Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said the amendment could create a financial burden for the state if gaming revenues drop.
Gerri Ogle, associate commissioner for administration and financial services for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the idea of providing additional money for school districts "is something that we are in favor of."
But she has concerns that since the money would be divided on a per-pupil basis it would not close the gap between rich and poor school districts.