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House committee hears K-12 funding measure

February 17, 2004
By: Alex Yalen
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB1002

JEFFERSON CITY -- Monday's rally for more public school money was met Tuesday by a House appropriations bill that would effectively hold steady state aid distribution to public schools.

The House plan would fund schools at almost exactly the same reduced levels they recieved during the 2002-2003 school year.

Because Missouri's funding formula is a complex array of variables, some individual districts could end up with more money through the plan, even though total state funding wouldn't increase, said Geri Ogle, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education associate commisioner.

But the broad nature of the bill raised the ire of some representatives who said they felt the plan was more of a blank check than a budget.

"If that's the extent of our analysis," said Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, "Then we can go ahead and continue this exercise but it really sounds like a one-size-fits-all approach."

House Education Appropriation Committee Chair Kathryn Fares, R-St. Louis County, denied that the plan was too broad or vague, but she did say the plan was "cautious."

"We're trying to find a figure that's within reason, a figure that can -- and should -- be appropriated," she said.

Fares also said that while she agreed the plan offered only minimal change, it did not indicate a lack of analysis or critical thinking by the part of the committee.

"We don't have a lot of wiggle room financially," she said. "We have to be cautious."

Ogle, cautioned that the plan to hold state aid to previously established levels would not allow schools to "keep up with a variety of costs."

But, she said, Missouri schools could certainly face worse alternatives.

"Of course we'd like there to be an increase in funding," Ogle said. "But this is not a decrease, which was a concern."

The House appropriation proposal follows the issue last week of a report by the Joint Committee on Education Funding.

That report offered vague philosophical arguments -- but contained no legislation or concrete suggestions -- on how to tweak Missouri's Foundation Formula, which dictates state aid distribution to public school districts.

The appropriations committee will continue work on the bill Wednesday at 3 p.m. No vote has been taken.