Public schools have not only escaped budget cuts the past few years, they have actually received budget increases. That likely will end.
Members of the House Education Appropriations Committee initially put a $105 million increase in the school funding formula, enough to keep up with the new formula’s seven-year phase-in. The full House Budget Committee accepted that recommendation. State revenue, though, kept deteriorating. The increase wouldn’t survive floor action.
Rep. Maynard Wallace (R-Thornfield) says education supporters came to understand it wouldn’t be possible to approve an increase and school superintendents needed certainty.
“Just tell them the truth upfront. They’re not going to like it, by and large, they are expecting something,” Wallace tells the Missourinet. “Let’s try to be honest and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Wallace, acknowledged as one of the strongest voices for schools in the House, sponsored the amendment to freeze school spending at present levels.
Rep. Joe Aull (D-Marshall) disagrees with holding school funding steady; a bit. Aull calls freezing school funding probably the reasonable thing to do and quite possibly the right thing to do. He says it’s hard to find any certainty on state revenue.
“I guess the reason why I had some concerns, I thought maybe we needed to, at least, leave some of the money in the formula, give us a chance to see where the final figures come in,” Aull tells us. “Give us a little bit more room to negotiate when things come to conference and just see where it goes.”
The chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee, Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville), says his committee was initially shocked by Governor Nixon’s recommendation that education funding increase by only $18 million. Yet, committee members gradually came to realize even that paltry increase wouldn’t be possible.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of superintendents and schools out there that will look at base funding and say, ‘Hey, that’s probably a good thing, it could have been worse,’” Thomson says. “And I’m thinking next year that’s a possibility.”
The state budget has been lean for a few years now. State legislators had not only shielded education from the cuts dealt other programs and services, but increased funding to public schools. It had become a top priority among everyone in the Capitol to keep up with funding the phase-in of the new school formula. Lawmakers say the budget picture has deteriorated so badly that everything is on the table now, including education. Next year could be worse, because the state won’t be able to rely on the $900 million in federal funds being used for next year’s budget. That could lead to actual budget cuts to education in Fiscal Year 2012.