Missouri Senate backs federal education funding

The Missouri Senate gave final approval Monday to legislation to spend $189 million in federal education money to fill shortfalls in state aid.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said schools would receive about $37 million of that money this school year and that the money would be used to make up for shortfalls in casino and cigarette taxes.

He said schools would get the rest of the funds next school year under the state’s education funding formula. But that federal money won’t provide a net increase to schools; instead it will be used to avoid a reduction and hold basic aid flat.

Several Republican senators raised concerns earlier this month that taking the money would drive up the national debt. And several Republican senators said Monday that schools could face even larger shortfalls in the budget year starting July 2012 when the federal money would no longer be available.

Ultimately, senators passed the legislation 28-6. The House had passed the legislation in February, and the bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Sen. Jim Lembke, one of the Republican critics, said the Legislature should have given school districts more money in the state’s current budget rather than relying on federal funds to close gaps during the school year. He said without a boost in state revenues, schools were likely to face a similar budget shortfall next year.

“That money is going to fund a structural hole in our state budget,” said Lembke, R-St. Louis. “Education is not getting a penny more than it got last year.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said it would be difficult to predict the state’s tax collections in future years or what budget changes would be needed to avoid shortfalls. He said some changes would have to be made if casino and cigarette taxes continue to lag after the federal money has been spent.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis, said schools have been slow to improve student performance on state achievement tests, despite receiving additional money from the Legislature. She said schools should have to make changes that improve those test scores to justify future funding increases.

“We have dramatically increased funding to education, but the lines of achievement are flat,” she said. “It’s time for us to put the medicine in with the sugar.”

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Education Funding bill is HB15

Online:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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