Missouri Governor Seeks $214 Million Hike In School Aid
Saying that education remains his highest priority, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt proposed a $214 million increase in spending on K-12 schools in his State of the State address to lawmakers last week.
The increase, part of the first-term Republican governor’s $8.3 billion budget proposal for the 2008 fiscal year, would represent a 3.8 percent rise over current state spending levels for education. If approved by the legislature, the plan would fully fund the state’s nearly 2-year-old school-funding formula and help underwrite a mix of other initiatives in instructional technology, early-childhood education, and after-school programs.
“Missouri is no longer just competing with states like Kansas and Illinois,” Gov. Blunt said, “but we are now in the global economy competing with India and Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. If we are to make Missouri families even more prosperous, we must ensure that students are equipped with advanced skills in math and science.”
The governor’s proposed budget includes, for example, $2.9 million to equip 100 classrooms across the state with up-to-date instructional technology, such as computer whiteboards or individual laptop computers for students, and $2.6 million to continue funding a state initiative begun last year to create virtual schools so that students can take courses online.
Gov. Blunt also called for spending $1 million to boost after-school programs in mathematics, science, health, and physical fitness and recommended a $2 million allocation for the state’s Parents as Teachers program, which provides training for parents of newborns.
And $3.6 million in the spending plan is targeted to an ongoing state initiative that pays for qualified students to attend the first two years of community college for free.
“It’s clear this plan is making some progress in increasing funding for our schools,” said Brent T. Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association, based in Columbia. “Does it meet all of our needs? Of course not.”
The plan drew more attention—and more criticism—for its higher education proposals, which are largely aimed at controlling skyrocketing tuition increases at the state’s public colleges and universities.
“No tuition increase should exceed the rate of inflation,” Gov. Blunt told the legislature. He is proposing to spend $110 million more in fiscal 2008 for Missouri’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education, $40 million more for state colleges and universities, and $47 million more to expand a scholarship program for needy students.
At the same time, he said, such institutions should be more accountable for the public dollars they receive. He called for giving the higher education coordinating board power to control tuition increases and to set performance standards for state colleges and universities.
But Democratic lawmakers said the governor’s proposed higher education increases, though the largest in recent years, were too little, too late.
Gov. Blunt’s speech also made no mention of a lawsuit over school funding that pits the state against more than half its 524 school districts. In the trial, which opened Jan. 3 in Cole County Circuit Court, districts charge that the state is not spending enough to provide students with an adequate education, and that the money is distributed unfairly.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” Mr. Ghan said of the trial.
The governor’s talk did refer, however, to the troubled St. Louis public school system. The state school board is set to vote Feb. 15 on a proposal for a state takeover of the 33,000-student district, Missouri’s largest.
“For me,” Mr. Blunt said, “no option is off the table, and I am willing to work with anybody who cares about our children.”
Vol. 26, Issue 21, Page 20