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Foundation formula
Debating school funding

Published Friday, January 7, 2005

Gov. Matt Blunt started his term in office by convening an education "summit" to hear ideas for fixing the rickety school foundation formula, a funding scheme that consistently fails to provide equitable funding among Missouri schoolchildren and, some allege, also fails to provide enough money.

Hundreds of school districts have sued the state and surely will win a judgment on at least the equity point. Blunt says he doesn’t need the court to tell him the formula is broken and hints the legislature should try to fix it before the court issues a mandate, a call that might be impossible to meet.

In the attempt, however, a real debate will occur including potential elements of an eventual, if perhaps temporary, fix.

Of all the ideas being bandied about, only an approach as radical as the one put forward by newly elected Rep. Ed. Robb of Columbia can reform the fundamentals of school funding enough to provide real equity.

Robb would scrap primary reliance on local school district property taxes in favor of state income taxes. In essence, for funding purposes this would create a single statewide school district. School taxes would be collected by the state and distributed by the state to local districts on any formula determined by the General Assembly. Obviously, under this arrangement the state can ensure funding equity because it would have full control over receipt and distribution of funds.

Under the current formula, this is impossible because funding is affected too much by local school district property tax policies.

I will be struck dumb if the legislature is able to pass any such reform in time to head off the lawsuit. Instead, even if the court process is postponed until the end of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers will not be able to move quickly and decisively enough to satisfy school district plaintiffs. The debate during this session will be valuable but won’t be likely to keep the court from issuing mandates to lawmakers.

Most curious is the issue of funding adequacy.

More on this tomorrow.

Henry J. Waters III, Publisher, Columbia Daily Tribune

A competitive world has two possibilities for you. You can lose. Or, if you want to win, you can change.

- Lester C. Thurow, educator





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