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Lobbyist Money Help  

Committee delays vote on foundation formula

March 02, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The effort fix the formula used to distribute state funding for local schools has missed its first deadline.

Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, had set a controversial four-week deadline for the joint Senate-House committee assigned to the task, but a vote is not expected until the formula can be compiled into bill form. This will not happen until next week.

Under the new formula the Columbia School District would gain more than $1.3 million. The details of the plan still need to be resolved, however, and the number could change before a vote on the recommendation.

Shield's plan is based on data from the middle 90 percent of the state's 113 top performing districts and provides additional funding to districts with a higher percentage of students than the average for the top districts in free and discounted lunch, special education and classified as low in English proficiency.

It would add the average daily attendance of districts to the adjusted attendance based upon the number of students involved in the special programs while factoring in differences in purchasing power across the state.

Deciding how to pay for the fix will likely be saved for the next step when respective House and Senate committees will analyze the joint committee's recommendation.

The current draft would set the minimum per pupil spending at $6,117 at an implementation cost of $546 million. But additional changes to the formula could drive the cost up by an additional $8 million.

The four-week deadline had been a point of contention between Shields and several of the Democratic committee members and the delay did not surprise many of the most vocal critics.

"It's a good thing that the process will be a little more spread out," Senate Minority Leader Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, said. "This is a serious decision, and it takes serious consideration."

Coleman, who has said the committee should hear testimony from a representative from each of the state's 524 school districts to ensure that a proposed fix benefits every school before making a decision, said she would reserve judgment on the new formula until she had spoken with school officials about the proposed changes.

Shields has dismissed criticism over the tight schedule, citing an interim committee that studied the same issue last session. But only Shields and two other Republicans return from the interim committee.

Shields said the delay occurred because his staff did not have enough time to draft what he said would be a long and complicated bill in time to be voted on Tuesday night.

"This just reflects the reality of what you're trying to ask the staff to do," he said. "You need to reduce all this down to a one bill, and it will be a pretty long bill."

In addition to Shields' plan which would tweak the existing formula, Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, pushed for a plan to eliminate the current model and use statewide income taxes to support schools. Robb's plan has not advanced after its initial introduction.

The current formula distributes state money using a series of variables, one of which considers the level of property tax. Shields said his plan would change the formula from one that rewards districts that raise their income taxes to one that distributes state funding based upon student needs. His system, however, would continue to use local property taxes.

The use of property taxes has created some tension between committee members with rural constituencies and the rest of the joint committee, especially members from suburban areas. Some suburban leaders have said rural properties are undervalued, reducing the amount of state funding these districts receive. These leaders have proposed a certificate of value, which they argue would ensure rural property is properly assessed.

Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, said such a provision would not necessarily be a deal-breaker for rural lawmakers but would make it more untenable for rural legislators. Leaders on the joint committee have said they would consider recommending certificates of value.