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Nixon vetoes proposed change to school funding formula, Legislature promptly overrides

Ferguson-Florissant schools superintendent Joseph Davis watches as Gov. Jay Nixon vetoes a measure that would have changed the state's school funding formula on May 4, 2016.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 12:27 p.m. May 5 with House veto override - The same day that Gov. Jay Nixon, D-Mo. vetoed a measure that would have changed the way school funding is calculated, the Missouri Senate voted to override that move. One day later, the House overrode the veto as well. The measure now becomes law.

According to the governor, "The cheapening of the foundation formula would break a promise that we have made to our local schools and students that they educate. This is a cynical policy that I cannot and will not support." He made his comments Wednesday at an appearance at Ferguson Middle School, in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The formula that's used to determine state funding for schools includes several parts. The portion that would have been affected by the measure Nixon vetoed is called the state adequacy target. It's determined in part by looking at how much money the highest-performing districts in the state spend on each student.

When the current formula was drafted in 2006, it included a 5 percent "throttle" on the growth in that target. But in 2009, lawmakers removed that cap, in part because they expected a flood of gambling money after voters repealed loss limits. In a year, the target funding jumped from $6,131 per student to more than $6,700 per student.

Though lawmakers have recently been able to increase school funding ever year, they have never been able to catch up with the funding formula, which is about $500 million short of being fully funded. The bill Nixon vetoed, sponsored by Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, would have re-instated that 5 percent throttle, which would mean the formula would be short by about $150 million.

In the discussion on the override attempt, the House sponsor, Rep. David Wood, R-Morgan County, said  you can’t lose money that you never had to begin with:

“In the governor’s press releases in the last couple of days, he has talked about the $550 million that the school districts, how much money they would receive, if we funded to that $550 million … well, I hate to break the news to the governor, but we’ve never had the $550 million, the school districts have never received that $550 million, so we can’t cut what they’ve never had.”

Republican backers called it a more realistic picture of what the state could afford. Nixon said lawmakers need to make school funding a priority, rather than lowering the bar.

"The same legislators who say the current goal is out of reach are the very same folks who are supporting hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest tax breaks and pet projects," he said. "They tell public schools to lower their horizons but for their special interest friends, the sky's the limit."

Republicans have not yet decided whether to override Nixon's veto. Mike Lodewegen, the associate executive director for government affairs at the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said he hoped that, whatever happens, lawmakers and the next governor could sit down and figure out ways to come up with the resources necessary for education.

"This is just a political battle between the lawmakers and the governor," Lodewegen said.

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