Missouri's public school leaders are hoping state lawmakers next year will fully fund the formula for the state's K-12 school system, though they know the likelihood is slim. Ron Lankford is Deputy Commissioner of Finance and Administrative Services for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He spoke recently with St. Louis Public Radio's Marshall Griffin about the request and what full funding would mean for the state's 520 school districts:
What is the funding formula and what does it include?
"Full funding goes back to the formula that was adopted in 2005 (and) implemented in 2006, and it was to be infused over 7 years...we've now lapsed the 7 years, so we're actually in the period of (when the formula was intended to be) fully funded...it calls for providing sufficient funds for all school districts in Missouri to have what's adequate or necessary, according to the formula, to have enough money for each student...we take into consideration cost of living, students who have higher needs, which generally (consist) of lower socio-economic level, those who have learning issues, and those who have limited English proficiencies."
Is this request made every year?
"It is...each year, we need to (make the request) to the (Governor') Budget Office by October first...generally we make a presentation to the State Board (of Education) of what we will be presenting over (at) the (Governor's) Budget Office to start the budget process...under this new formula, in Fiscal Year 2010, (it) was the first time over that 3-year incremental time that the formula was not fully funded...for Fiscal Year 2011 the decision had to be made as to whether or not we would request full funding, knowing because of the economic situation it probably could not be...but the (State) Board (of Education) made the decision, because the statute defines exactly how to calculate it, that it would be considered (a) mandatory (request), so the request (has been made) for full funding in (Fiscal Years) 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and now for 2015...in all of those years, even when the budget is challenged, the (State) Board (of Education's) position has been to request full funding."
Do you think there's an actual chance you might get full funding?
"It'll be very difficult, because in reality education is not the only area of state government that has needs...I would have to say that I would certainly be unrealistic if I would suspect that we (would) have full funding."
What would be the budget allocation (for full funding)?
"For the full funding of the (K-12) formula, (it) would be $3 billion & 630-some million, I believe that's the exact amount."
If you were to wager a guess, how close do you think you'll be toward getting full funding, or do you think you'll make some progress this year?
"Last year, the legislative body and the Governor approved an increased capacity of $66 million over the prior year...we had $3 billion-9 million in FY 2013, so going forward for FY 2014 it's $3 billion-75 million...however, the new budget was predicated upon money going to the classroom trust fund, which is gaming money, and so it's going to be awfully hard, looking at the gaming trends, for schools to realize that amount of money this year...we're very hopeful that we will see some increase to the foundation formula, but again I would not feel comfortable speculating what it might be...I think if the $3 billion-75 million is not achievable this year, hopefully that could be a target that would become real dollars going forward, and anything in addition to that could certainly be put to use."
Do you think a tax cut bill similar to House Bill 253 in 2014 could make it even more difficult to meet full funding?
"I will just tell you that it's hard for the state to meet greater obligations if the money doesn't grow proportionately...if you look at the state of Missouri, last year I think we got back to about the 2008 level of funds, so (we've) barely caught back up to where we were prior to the economic situation (of 2008)...if we don't have enough dollars, if they decrease, it will make it harder for the state to fund not only education but all the other services in the state."
Anything else you want to throw in?
"We just hope that the economy continues to move forward...it looks like right now, based on the first two months of this year, that we're growing at just under 3 percent...we would like to see that get up to a little better than 3 percent...we've had some very difficult times in the economy, not only in Missouri but across the nation...difficult situations generally aren't fixed overnight, (but) we're just optimistic that we can continue the trajectory of moving forward."
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport