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Lower education receives brunt of cuts.

February 19, 2003
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The UM system will lose $935,695 under the plan approved by the House Education Appropriations Committee Wednesday night.

The committee made the cuts in response to the spending cap House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, placed on the education budget. The cap requires the appropriations committee to cut about $100 million for the 2004 fiscal year.

Overall, higher education cuts would total $3.7 million while primary and secondary education would lose $107.9 million.

Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-St. Louis County and chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations Committee, proposed cutting the UM system budget by $1,871,390 -- a cut of 0.5 percent.

Columbia Reps. Chuck Graham and Jeff Harris, both Democrats, objected to this cut on the basis that every other state institution of higher education was cut by only 0.25 percent.

"Why is it we're asking one set of schools to bear double the brunt that we're asking of other schools?" Graham asked.

Fares then changed the amendment to represent a 0.25 percent cut for the UM system.

Fares entered the hearings with a goal of cutting $103 million from lower education and $8.5 million from higher education.

After exceeding the lower education goal by $4.9 million Tuesday, the committee agreed not to make cuts well beyond the goal. The amended UM system cuts were the last made, putting the committee's total cuts at $111.6 million.

Some Democrats would have preferred to increase revenue instead of making any cuts. Graham said he voted against every cut made by the committee. Harris made a motion to restore the UM system funding to fiscal year 2002 levels.

"It's taken more than its fair share of cuts," Harris said.

Greg Jung, president of the Missouri National Education Association, said the group understands the tight budget situation.

"We do know that higher education has taken some cuts before this," Jung said. "We would hope that it wouldn't be such a big cut for K-12 education."

Cuts of over $107 million for primary and secondary education were recommended Tuesday.

Some $91 million would be removed from the calculation of the school foundation formula, which is used to allot funds to state school districts. Currently, school districts double-count students attending summer school. This number is then used in the foundation formula.

The intent of double-counting summer school students in the formula was to encourage summer school programs. Gerri Ogle, Missouri Associate Commissioner of Education, said the proposed change may result in some schools dropping summer programs because of lack of money.

An additional $9 million, half of the amount distributed to districts for staff development, was cut.

Jung said the money, part of which is used for on-going teacher training, is important.

"It helps them hone their skills and become better at what they do," Jung said.

Both measures, which affect the school foundation formula, would require bills to change the way the formula is calculated.

The committee cut $7.1 million from the safe schools program. The program provides alternative schools for students. Graham said the funding also goes toward helping violent and disruptive students as well as violence-prevention programs.

Ogle said the safe school funding was given in grants with a maximum of three years, so school districts knew the funding was short-term. Ogle said that "each school will have to evaluate its program" to determine if it will continue.

The committee's cuts serve as recommendations to the House Budget Committee, which submits a plan to the full House.