Nixon promises first step to fully fund school formula

Calls it ‘significant down payment’

Gov. Jay Nixon said his fiscal year 2015 budget will “make a significant down payment” on his commitment to fully fund the foundation formula for Missouri’s public schools by the end of his term— a goal that will require hundreds of millions of additional dollars for Missouri’s classrooms. 

Nixon delivered his remarks to a roomful of superintendents, school board members and public education advocates who gathered at the Governor’s Office Building at his invitation. The group later crossed the street to the Governor’s Mansion for a reception.

Prefacing Nixon’s remarks, state Budget Director Linda Luebbering indicated the goal is achievable because Missouri’s economy is mending.

“The future outlook is good,” she said, cautiously. “The underlying revenue situation looks good ... it looks like we’re have some resources to invest in key areas. We’re not going to have enough money to give everybody everything they want.” 

Nixon didn’t describe a detailed path toward full funding. And Luebbering noted a consensus revenue estimate — which determines how much the Legislature can spend — won’t be discussed until December. 

Although she mentioned a few caveats, Luebbering noted sales tax, individual income tax and corporate tax collections all are trending a positive direction.

“We should have some good, positive growth in our revenue projections, both for the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year,” Luebbering said. 

Nixon thanked the group for lending their support for his veto of House Bill 253, a tax cut proposal opposed by the school community.

“We knew that educators, administrators and board members — the people in this room — would be some of our most important partners in that effort. But quite frankly, I underestimated you,” he said. 

Jefferson City Board of Education member Doug Whitehead was in the room. He said he saw the meeting as a good opportunity to prep for the next legislative session. 

Nixon also credited listeners for their work on behalf of children. 

“It’s easier to point out what’s wrong with our schools than it is to work each day to improve them,” he said. 

Missouri changed its school funding formula in 2005 to make it less reliant on local property values and taxes. Instead, the formula establishes funding based on a per-pupil spending target. 

The new formula was to be fully phased in by 2013, but funding has fallen short of the target every year since 2010, largely because of an economic downturn that put a squeeze on state finances.

The state provides about $2.9 billion in general revenue — 35 percent — on elementary and secondary education, the largest spending category. 

Because the amount called for by the formula changes annually, state officials project that the current funding level would be $556 million short of the target for the next state budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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