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Committee hears new education funding proposals

January 26, 2004
By: Alex Yalen
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A Missouri legislative panel was told Monday that it could take nearly $1 billion to "adequately" fund Missouri schools.

The consultant was hired by a GOP-controlled special joint committee reviewing education finances. The consultant's figure represents an amount far higher than the tax-increase package of the governor that has come under Republican attack.

"We've tried to be as conservative as we can be about this," John Augenblick told the Joint Committee on Education Funding Monday.

Augenblick's first proposal was similar to the type of system currently used in the state's Foundation Formula, balancing local wealth against state aid, sparking some to question whether this method was actually different from the 1993 Outstanding Schools Act still in effect today.

But it was his second option that raised questions from the committee.

His proposal established a base figure that schools could use -- on a per student basis -- to compare current spending with the spending they should be doing to meet state standards.

Based on that number, districts would then be allowed to adjust their property tax rate. School districts would be allowed to levy between 80 percent and 120 percent of the recommended "adequate" level.

And that variance, some committee members said, could raise constitutional questions.

"I'm concerned over part of your proposal that involves a constitutional amendment," said Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, questioning how much control local governments have over taxes.

The problem with this plan, committee members said, is that it could violate a major Missouri tax law, which requires tax rates to be "rolled back" if they exceed a certain level.

There was also concern that local school districts could raise tax rates and generate more revenue, but then not spend the money on improving standards.

"If we look at something like this, should there be a penalty if in fact the numbers indicate that school districts are not coming up with results," said Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County. "What if they are saving (the money) for their building fund?"

Augenblick re-emphasized the importance of local flexibility in his defense of the plan.

"We believe that once you are (funding) beyond adequacy, what locals do is their own business," he said.

His colleague Jason Silverstein also denied that the financial burden was simply being shifted around between state and local authorities.

"Under (the first plan), there will be nearly $1.4 billion in new state money. Under the second, there would be almost $700 million," Silverstein said. "Either way, the whole pot is bigger."