JEFFERSON CITY - By a near party-line vote, the Missouri House voted Tuesday to freeze state funding for public schools in the next budget year that will begin July 1.
The House voted 80-68 to reject a proposed $105 million increase in the School Foundation Formula that had been recommended by the House Budget Committee.
The amendment to reject the increase was offered by Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Ozark County -- the chair of the House Education Committee and a former public school administrator. Wallace said he originally had opposed underfunding the formula but changed his mind when the state's budget shortfall situation became more apparent.
"It has to be done," Wallace said. "The absolutely worse thing is to promise schools money they wind up not getting."
While Wallace's amendment was supported by an overwhelming majority of Republicans -- including the chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County -- and only two Democrats supported it: Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis City.
Kelly lauded Wallace for his efforts.
"If he cuts ($105 million), the budget will be balanced," Kelly said. "The gentleman from Ozark is my hero."
Combined with the earlier cuts in the governor's spending plan adopted by the House Budget Committee, the House version of the budget now is about $200 million below the governor's original recommendation in General Revenue.
Since presenting that budget in January, the administration has acknowledge Jay Nixon's spending plan needed to be trimmed by about $500 million -- $200 million because of a continued decline in state tax collections and another $300 million because uncertainty about Congressional approval of legislation that would provide Missouri with additional economic recovery funds.
Earlier this month, however, Icet expressed increased confidence the federal funds would be available, only requiring a $200 million cut in the governor's spending plan. That's why Kelly said the House had achieved a balanced budget with its decision to freeze state funding to local schools.
Because the School Formula Foundation would not be fully funded under Wallace's amendment, Icet had to propose another amendment to alter the language in the education budget bill for the formula. By a 83-71 vote, the amendment to the bill seeks to allow the Education Department to modify the formula to accommodate for the available funds.
U.S. Sen. Kit Bond's Parents as Teachers program came under attack by Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who proposed an amendment to strip the nearly $27 million in funds the program is appropriated.
"This is a program that's a nice program and wonderful to have, but the fact is, evidence shows that the benefits of early education development programs last for a few years, and then they are gone," Schaaf said. "This program is just something we can't afford."
Representatives from both sides of the aisle spoke against Schaaf's amendment.
"Early childhood education is critical for success in school," Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County, said. "Cutting Parents as Teachers is absolutely the wrong direction to go."
Schaaf withdrew his amendment after saying he had received strong opposition from his own party during debate.
Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, proposed an amendment to cut $4 million from the the Career Ladder program. He said if the Parents as Teachers program could take all the cuts it has endured, the Career Ladder program could take just as much. The amendment was defeated.
Another amendment, proposed by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, would have refused money from the Federal Stabilization Stabilization Fund, an integral part of the higher education budget bill. The amendment would have jeopardized the governor's in-state tuition freeze promise.
The federal stabilization money comes from $300 million Nixon was unsure would come to Missouri but included in his budget recommendations. After Icet and other Republicans criticized the governor for including the federal money, they included the funds in their version of the budget bills.
Icet said he is confident the state will get the federal funds.
The elementary and secondary education and higher education bills will be perfected Wednesday in the House.