Governor Eric Greitens has touted an increase in K-through-12 spending in his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The governor’s plan adds $87.5 million on top of the current year’s outlay for a total of $6.1 billion, which is a record for elementary and secondary education.
But the sum still falls $48.5 million short of fully funding the foundation formula after the state reached that threshold for the first-time last year under the current formula.
The governor has proposed a $50.5 million increase to the formula, which is roughly half of the $98.9 million increase the education department asked for.
The foundation formula is the benchmark which reflects the sum needed to adequately finance public education. The legislature lowered the bar to fully fund the formula in 2016 with the notion that doing so would make the goal achievable.
Linda Rallo, vice president of AlignEd said the governor’s failure to hit the target in his budget proposal is disheartening. “To not fully fund the formula, to me is not in the best interest of our state,” said Rallo. “We already made it easier to fund. And so, the idea behind that was to make a commitment to fully fund the formula every year.”
Greitens’ office also pointed out that it’s proposal for elementary and secondary education includes a $2 million increase in funding for school transportation. The governor’s number reflects a replenishment of some cuts as both Greitens and previous Governor Jay Nixon-D have withheld millions in transportation money for schools over the past couple of years.
$105.3 million was allocated by the legislature for school transportation last year. Greitens has proposed slicing that number by $13 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Brent Ghan, Deputy Executive Director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, says Greitens proposal for school transportation is part of a disturbing trend.
“We’ve seen nothing but a decline in school transportation funding for a number of years now,” said Ghan. “Back in the early 90’s, the state provided as much as 70% of the cost of transporting kids to school, and now we’re down to around 17%.”
Several lawmakers have expressed concern over the downsizing of transportation money. Ghan says he’s hopeful the legislature will reinstate the funding over the course of the current session.
School districts’ dependence on state funding for all needs varies by wide margins across the state. Richer districts are able to finance k-12 almost entirely through local property tax levies while poorer districts rely more heavily on state money.
For the first time, the state is required to provide money for pre-kindergarten education thanks to a law authored by Republican State Representative Kathy Swan in 2014.
Among other things, the measure stipulated that once the foundation formula is fully funded, districts can draw down formula money to cover pre-school services for at-risk three and four-year-old kids.
AlignEd’s Rallo notes the change is permanent, meaning the pre-k expenses must still be covered, regardless of whether the formula is funded.
“You can’t take the pre-K and cut it, and go ‘OK, we’re cutting the pre-k,” Rallo said. “These kids are now part of the formula. So, if you cut $48 million, you’re not cutting $48 in pre-K. You’re just cutting $48 million out of your required amount to fully fund the formula.”
The shortfall to fund the formula in the governor’s proposal is equal to the amount of money needed to finance pre-k education in the upcoming fiscal year.
AlignEd, formally known as the Alliance for Childhood Education, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which promotes pre-k through post-secondary educational reforms.
It’s not known if the legislature will move to fully fund the foundation formula in the current session.