The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 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.
Establishing a new, more equitable system of paying for schools was the dominant legislative issue in 2005 for the Show Me State. The new formula, approved in May, sets a minimum per-pupil funding level from all sources of $6,117.
The plan attempts to shift Missouri away from a school funding system based largely on property wealth and tax levies to one that centers more on schools’ actual costs. Lawmakers had hoped their action would stave off a legal challenge from districts across the state, which have long complained that the old system led to disparities. Districts’ average per-pupil funding levels range from $5,000 to more than $14,000. (“Missouri OKs School Aid Plan; Likely Plaintiffs Unimpressed,” May 25, 2005)
While some districts have since dropped out of the lawsuit because of the new formula, most have signaled that they will carry on the challenge.
The new aid system is not intended to take effect until next year. Legislators said it would increase state aid to K-12 schools by nearly $1 billion over seven years. For the current fiscal year, lawmakers approved a budget that allots $3.7 billion for K-12 education—about $164 million, or 4 percent, more than in the previous fiscal year.
Lawmakers waged a battle over a proposal by Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, to eliminate Missouri’s First Steps program, which provides a range of intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities. To keep it going, the legislature ratified a sliding-fee scale for families that use the program and transferred costs for some services to health insurers.
The House rejected a bill that would have given tax credits to individuals or businesses for donations made to a state-administered scholarship program for low-income students seeking to attend private schools or pursue other educational opportunities.
Also, over the objections of biologists, lawmakers voted to adopt a Kansas City 4th grade class’s petition to make the North American bullfrog the state amphibian. Biologists opposed the choice because the bullfrog is an invasive species. (“Scientific Backlash,” May 11, 2005)
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2005 edition of Education Week