Missouri Board Proposes Revised Funding Formula To Aid Poor Districts
By Reagan Walker
Spurred by the possibility of a finance-equity lawsuit, the Missouri board of education has given tentative approval to a new funding formula that would direct more state education aid to low-wealth school districts.
The board is expected to give final approval to the plan next month before submitting it to the legislature early next year.
The plan, which has been under development for nearly two years, aims to make the school-funding system more equitable and simpler to calculate, according to James L. Morris, director of public information for the state department of elementary and secondary education.
In its proposal, the board calls for distributing funds designated for disadvantaged students on the basis of the proportion of students from low-income families in each district, rather than on a per-student basis. The effect of the provision would be to direct more funds to districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students, officials said.
Another change proposed by the board would base the distribution of state aid more on the actual cost of providing basic education services, rather than on the amount of funds a district received in the previous year, as under the current formula.
In addition, the new plan seeks to adjust how a district's local wealth, as measured by assessed property value, is factored into the funding formula.
The current formula was last revised in 1977. "Tthe districts have changed, but the formula hasn't," Mr. Morris observed.
"We hope this formula will be more equitable and more dynamic," he added.
Some board members have said that the changes are needed to ensure that Missouri could withstand a constitutional challenge to its financing formula.
Thomas Davis, president of the board, argues that recent court decisions in Texas and Kentucky illustrate the "urgent need" for the state to update its school-finance system.
Mr. Davis's concerns echo those voiced last month by Commissioner of Education Robert E. Bartman, who told a legislative committee that the funding formula needs to be changed or the state could be sued by local school districts.
The board, which has held twomeetings to consider the proposal, gave tentative approval to the plan this month. It withheld final approval to give local superintendents time to calculate the effect of the new formula on their districts.
Initial calculations indicate that 198 of the state's 544 districts would lose money under the proposed formula, with the rest breaking even or receiving more than their current level.
The new formula would be phased in over five years, and the board has agreed to include a "hold harmless" provision that would ensure that local districts received at least their current level of funding for the first three years.