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Blunt to deliver budget, State of the State tonight

Gov. Matt Blunt will again speak to lawmakers in the Missouri House chambers. (UPI file photo)

By Marshall Griffin, KWMU / AP

Jefferson City, MO – Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt will taough on education, health care, and taxes during his his State of the State tonight (Wed). It'll be the governor's third address, and the third to be delivered in prime time.

Press Secretary Jessica Robinson says the governor will give specific attention to several things, including his proposed education budget.

"[Blunt] has promised to increase education funding every year he's in office," Robinson said, in an interview. "My expectation is that tonight he will again talk about his funding plans for this year, and his plans to continue increasing funding for education."

The governor will also talk about his health care delivery program, which Robinson says is designed to replace the Medicaid system. And she adds that Blunt will outline his plan to cut taxes.

On Tuesday, the governor said his budget proposal will include a funding increase for education. In fact, he proposed giving public schools every dollar they're due under a state formula. That formula is currently being debated in a courtroom because of a lawsuit brought school districts that argue they don't get enough money, or that it's fairly distributed.

Blunt says his budget for next year will raise basic state aid for K-12 schools to nearly $2.9 billion, an increase of $171.5 million over what they originally were scheduled to receive this year.

Nearly half of Missouri's 524 school districts are part of the lawsuit. Testimony continued Tuesday in that trial at the Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City.

Blunt shied away from directly discussing the lawsuit while speaking to roughly 350 people at a school administrators' meeting, where he announced his budget proposal.

But he praised the "strong" new funding formula adopted two years ago, which the suing districts contend is still insufficient.

That formula now bases state funding on the amount it takes to provide a sound education to each student, as determined by the spending levels of districts that scored highest on a state report. The old funding formula relied more heavily on local property assessments and taxes in determining state aid.

Blunt said he will propose an additional $38.7 million in basic school funding to meet the revised amount called for under the formula this year. He will propose an additional $132.6 million increase for the 2008 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

While the additional money is good, it's not enough to cover schools' needs nor persuade schools to drop their lawsuit, said Alex Bartlett, the lead attorney for the Committee for Educational Equality.

"That's about the cost of living and that's about it," Bartlett said during a break in the school funding trial.

The additional $171.5 million in basic school funding amounts to a greater than 6% increase over what was originally budgeted for this year. Blunt said that's far better than keeping pace with the cost of living.

"Every year that I've served as governor, we've increased education funding," he told school administrators. "In fact, every year I've served as governor, we've increased it at a rate that exceeded the rate of inflation."

When funding increases are included for various other educational programs, Blunt said he will propose an additional $214 million for public schools. That's the figure he plans to cite in the State of the State speech.

Blunt declined to say Tuesday how much additional money he would recommend for higher education institutions.

The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education has recommended a 12.6% funding increase for colleges and universities, which would amount to $111 million. But the board's recommendations don't always become reality. Colleges and universities received a 2% increase this year, bringing their basic operational funding to $877 million.

In addition to the basic funding increase for K-12 schools, Blunt is recommending more money for technology in classrooms, plus increases for special education and the Parents as Teachers program that caters to parents' needs before their children enter school.

Blunt's budget also will include $2.6 million to start up an Internet-based school program, which was approved in legislation passed last year.

Programming note: You can hear Gov. Blunt's speech live at 7:oo p.m. on KWMU.


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