JEFFERSON CITY - On the eve of Missouri's 2004 legislative session, a committee representing 243 school districts filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri Tuesday.
The suit claims the schools receive inequitable and inadequate funding under the current School Foundation Formula.
Senate President Peter Kinder said the lawsuit may spur legislators to work on rewriting the system by which state funds are allocated to schools -- as the last lawsuit a decade ago had done.
In 1993, the state legislature rewrote the state's School Foundation Formula and raised taxes for education after a Cole County circuit judge ruled that Missouri's education funding system was unconstitutional.
However, Kinder noted that lawsuit had been filed three years earlier.
The school districts' lawyer in that case is the same as in the current case -- Jefferson City attorney Alex Bartlett. He agreed with Kinder that it was unlikely lawmakers would be able to respond with school-funding changes in the current legislative session because of the complexity of the issue as well as the realities of an election year.
Bartlett said the Committee for Educational Equality resorted to a lawsuit because many legislators said that was the only way the legislature would act.
For the 2002 fiscal year, school district expenditures per pupil ranged from a high of $13,748 to a low of $4,561, according to the committee.
Bartlett said the current formula does not take into account inflation or increased demands put on school districts by No Child Left Behind.
Kinder predicted that the school districts could win the suit in respect to inequitable funding, but he said the court should not rule in the schools' favor on the issue of inadequacy.
"If they prevail on that ... We won't need the legislature because the judges will have taken over the legislative function to determine how much of the people's tax money to appropriate to the schools," he said.
The findings of a legislative committee that began looking at the Foundation Formula a few months ago will be presented in February. Kinder said the legislature will likely look at the formula this year, but rewriting it is usually a multi-year process.
Some lawmakers have proposed a system that would let school districts replace the property tax with a locally-approved income tax.