A legislative leader is relieved, but not surprised by the State Supreme Court ruling that upheld the school funding formula.
Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields , a Republican from St. Joseph, was instrumental in writing the new school funding formula approved by the legislature in 2005. He chaired the joint legislative committee that reviewed the old formula and considered changes. The committee reviewed what the top 113 school districts in the state spent to educate their students.
Missouri has 523 school districts. Funding varies greatly among them. The State Supreme Court ruling highlighted the disparity in spending per pupil, noting in the ruling written by Judge Mary Russell that the Diamond R-IV School District in southwest Missouri’s Newton County spent $4,704.11 per pupil in the 2004-2005 school year while the Gorin R-III in northeast Missouri’s Scotland County spent $15,251.28 per pupil. Tax bases among Missouri school districts vary widely as well, ranging in the 2004-2005 school year from $19,605 in assessed valuation per pupil in the Cooter R-IV School District, in southeast Missouri’s Pemiscot County, to $416,679 in the Clayton School District of St. Louis County.
The legislature based the old school funding formula on the tax base, with an emphasis on enticing school districts to raise their local levies to receive increased state funding. The interim committee focused on what those top school districts spent and settled on an average of approximately $6,300 per pupil. The legislature adopted the interim committee’s findings and approved a new funding formula with a seven-year phase in. The state is in the fourth year of that phase in.
More than 250 school districts had filed a lawsuit against the state, charging that the old formula violated the state constitution. A few districts dropped out of the lawsuit when the legislature approved the new formula. More than 200 continued to press their case, charging that the new formula provided inadequate funding and distributed it inequitably.
The State Supreme Court rejected the claim and ruled the legislature acted within its constitutional authority in approving the new school funding formula.
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota , a Democrat from Independence, issued a statement within a half hour of the ruling’s hand down, claiming that the ruling didn’t mean that the state was doing all it can to improve the quality of public education.
"Although the bare minimum may be sufficient to comply with the state constitution, Missouri children deserve an educational system that provides much more than the bare minimum," LeVota said in the written statement.
Shields dismissed the criticism.
"Clearly, in these tough economic times, we are doing a great deal for elementary and second education," Shields told the Missourinet. "My challenge to Rep. LeVota, if he wants to do more for education, tell me which part of mental health he’s not going to fund, tell me which part of public safety he’s not going to fund, tell me which part of MO Health Net, our safety net for low-income health care, that he’s not going to fund so he can put more money into K through 12."
LeVota took a direct slap at Republicans in his response, stating that the Republican-controlled legislature, along with a Republican governor, replaced an outdated public school funding formula with a new system this is just as inadequate and perhaps even more unfair.
Shields points out that the new formula will drive close to a billion dollars in more state money to public schools over its seven-year phase in. And Shields insists that the funding will be more fair and consistent.
"We’re going to fund schools based on what it actually takes them to educate a child," Shields says.
Shields says he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, because he expected the formula to be upheld by the courts.