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Funding formula will remain the same

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Missouri's public schools have lost the battle with the state about the public schools' funding formula.

School districts challenged the 1993 school funding formula and the 2005 revisions for the funding formula claiming that the formula violated the state and federal constitutions because it violated equal funding protection between both rural and urban schools.

More than half of Missouri's 523 public schools filed suit against the state on the issue as a collective group of the Committee for Educational Equality.

"In 1993, the legislature passed a new school funding formula in Senate Bill No. 380. In 2004, the plaintiffs sued the state (collectively) alleging the school funding formula resulted in inadequate and inequitable funding to Missouri's public schools, thereby violating article IX, section 1(a) of the Missouri Constitution, which directs the state to provide a free public education for persons younger that 21 years. In 2005, while the case was pending, the legislature amended the school funding formula in Senate Bill No. 287, now codified in chapter 163, RSMo Supp. 2008. Designed to be phased in over seven years, the revised formula provides less state financial assistance to schools with greater contributions from local efforts, which involve assessed valuation (locked in using the state tax commission's 2004 property tax assessments), collector and assessor fees and incidental and teachers' funds," according to the facts of a summary overview of the trial.

According to the Missouri Association of Rural Education an average of about $6,633 of expenditures are spent per student. However, expenditures differ in accordance with the size and rurality of the school district.

According to an article titled, "The Value of Small Schools in Missouri," by Ray V. Patrick, Ed.D., "The foundation formula does not adequately address the inequities in funding across Missouri school districts. (Year) 2002 data show that their is a $9,187 difference in per pupil spending between the highest-spending, $13,748, and lowest-spending, $4,561, districts in the state. When the formula is less than fully funded, the poorest school districts, as measured by equalized assessed valuation per child, receives the greatest reduction in funding per child."

The article also states, "If the wealthiest district in the state maintains a $3.20 levy, the tax levy in the poorest district in the state would have to increase to $63.92 in order to generate equivalent dollars per student."

All seven judges in the state's Supreme Court agreed that, "The formula does not violate article IX of the Missouri Constitution, which requires the state to establish free public schools and to fund such schools using no less than 25 percent of state revenue but which makes no requirement that state funding exceed this threshold," according to a summary of the review of the challenge.

"There is no fundamental right to equitable per-pupil expenditures among school districts, and it is not irrational for the legislature to fund the schools by providing more state money to those schools with fewer local funds," according to the summary. "The formula does not violate the state constitution's Hancock Amendment, which permits as a remedy only the release of a local government from a state obligation, not increased state funding."

According to the trial summary the judges decided, "The school funding formula does not violate the equal rights and opportunities guaranteed by article I, section 2 of the Missouri Constitution, and the plaintiffs' arguments to the contrary are without merit. Education is not a fundamental right under either the United States or Missouri constitution, and there is no constitutional basis for requiring equitable per-pupil expenditures among school districts. Rather, the constitution builds in certain variances in per-pupil spending across districts."

Thayer, Koshkonong and Couch school districts did not participate as members of the Committee for Educational Equality in the lawsuit.

Though the district was not a member of the group, Thayer Superintendent Rod Priest said, "I think there were some good things that came out of it (the lawsuit)." He said since the lawsuit began five years ago, the state has made some progress in reworking the funding formula.

Alton R-IV School District, however, did participate as a member of the Committee for Educational Equality in the lawsuit and spent an estimated $4,000, or $1 per student, total for the five-year lawsuit. "I was surprised at the ruling," Alton Superintendent Shelia Wheeler said. "There's a big difference in (school) expenses."

"It makes a difference on where the child lives and the wealth of their community," Wheeler said. "We will continue to do the best that we can with the funds we have available."

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