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Senators debate school funding

Seven Mid-Missouri school districts would gain some money in the next 18 months, while 25 others would lose under Gov. Jay Nixon’s school funding budget proposal.

That prediction is based on a funding simulation Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer distributed Thursday to all senators, as lawmakers prepared to go home for the weekend.

Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he didn’t want “our members (to) be caught flat-footed” if they’re asked by school officials or patrons what the numbers mean.

Nixon has submitted his supplemental budget request for the rest of the current business year, to be debated by lawmakers as they also write the spending plan for the 2011-12 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The supplemental funding bill includes a plan the governor outlined during his State of the State speech last week: Giving the state Elementary and Secondary Department $189 million in federal stimulus dollars that must be spent by next September, then asking the schools to save $112 million for use next year, so that funding will be equalized over the two years.

But, Schaefer told the Senate on Thursday, any budget plan affects the state’s 522 public school districts in many different ways, and Nixon’s plan won’t have the same impact in each district.

“As you can see, the vast majority of these (522) school districts do have a substantial decrease for the 2012 (business year),” Schaefer said.

“While we use that number of $189 million for the additional, federal jobs money ... you have to take into consideration that the governor is withholding an additional $65 million in federal stabilization funds; we are down $12 million for education from the cigarette tax, the county foreign insurance tax and the ‘fair share’ tax; and we’re also down $23 million in gaming money.”

That means Nixon’s supplemental budget request is only an additional $88 million in funding for the rest of 2010-11, but he still expects that to equal more than $150 million in funding next year.

Some senators argued the state shouldn’t take the federal money at all, since Congress is spending more money on stimulus programs than it’s getting in taxes.

But, Schaefer said, the time for that debate will come later this year.

“Today all I want to point out is, if you plug in the numbers as we have them currently, this is what it (looks like) and how it impacts the school districts,” he told reporters.

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