Missouri Lawmakers Continue to Deliver on Increased Funding
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2006 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Gov. Matt Blunt signed off last month on a measure approved by state legislators to boost Missouri’s aid to schools by $132.6 million.
The increase, part of a $21.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2008, marks the second year Missouri has made good on a seven-year plan to phase in a new funding formula for K-12 schools.
Lawmakers’ efforts have not dissuaded school districts, however, from forging ahead with a legal challenge to the state’s school finance system. In hearings that began in January in Cole County Circuit Court, a coalition made up of more than half the state’s districts charges that the current formula is inequitable and inadequate. A judge is expected to rule this summer.
The hike in aid to schools—an increase of 4 percent, for a total school budget of $5.2 billion—was among a mix of education-related spending increases the legislature approved during its just-ended session. The lawmakers also voted to give districts an added $5 million to defray rising fuel costs for school buses; provide $2 million more for the state’s well-regarded Parents as Teachers program for infants and their families; have the state shoulder a percentage of students’ fees for Advanced Placement tests in math and science; and provide grants to create 100 state-of-the-art technology classrooms in schools around the state.
But the biggest and most controversial education initiative to make it out of the legislature this year was a measure aimed at improving higher education and making it more affordable. The program proposed by Gov. Blunt, a Republican, calls for selling loan assets from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to generate $335 million in funding for capital-improvement projects at state colleges and universities. Several education groups opposed that part of the package, accusing the governor of trying to raid the student-loan agency.
The measure also caps tuition increases at state higher education institutions at the consumer price index and more than doubles funding for needs-based scholarships, increasing the scholarship pool to $72.5 million in fiscal 2008 from $27.5 million in fiscal 2007.
Vol. 26, Issue 43, Page 22