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Missouri Senate panel explores changes to school funding calculation

by Anna Campbell | March 1, 2023 at 4:02 a.m.

Education committees in both chambers of the Missouri Legislature are now digging into the school funding formula.

The Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee heard SB 17, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Arthur, on Tuesday. Arthur, a former teacher and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Teacher Recruitment and Retention, said her bill would make two changes to the funding formula.

The first would be a change to the way the state adequacy target is calculated.

The state adequacy target, or the SAT, is a number representing the expenditures per student by the top-performing districts in the state. That number serves as the benchmark for expenditures for all districts in the funding formula, but the increase over time in the SAT is capped at 5 percent growth.

Arthur's bill would increase the cap to 10 percent.

"Basically, what we're experiencing is flat funding with that SAT. Put simply, the state is not investing, or increasing its investment, in our children's future," Arthur said.

While she'd like to remove the cap entirely, Arthur said, she doesn't think that's realistic. The increase to a 10 percent cap would constitute $237 million a year, and would increase the SAT from about $6,300 to $6,600.

The second change would change the way financial need is measured within districts. With changes that occurred during the pandemic, free and reduced lunch numbers are not as accurate anymore, Arthur said. Under Arthur's bill, the Census Bureau's poverty percentage could be factored into the calculation. Arthur said this could capture students who qualify but are being under-counted.

The bill garnered support from educational organizations such as Aligned, the Missouri National Education Association, Missouri School Boards' Association and the Missouri State Teachers Association, who said that schools could use additional resources.

"Over the life of the formula, we've seen an increase in the state adequacy target of about 4 percent. During that same time, inflation has been over 30," said Mike Lodewegen of the Missouri Council of School Administrators.

Just a few weeks ago, the House education committee also explored the topic of the education funding formula in a hearing, seeking familiarity with its provisions.

The Senate committee also heard a few other bills.

SB 255 would offer an educational savings account to students, subject to appropriations, which could be used to cover educational expenses including tuition at a private school or online school. SB 360 would expand the 2021 Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program to more students and regions.

The American Federation for Children of Missouri and Missouri Catholic Conference, among others, supported the bills.

Homeschool parents spoke in opposition or neutrality, saying they wanted to ensure that homeschoolers were left out of the bills.

SB 304, sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, would expand charter school eligibility to any district in a charter county or any municipality with a population greater than 30,000, which would include Jefferson City, Columbia and Springfield, along with urban and suburban areas.

The bill was opposed by education organizations such as the Missouri NEA, MCSA, and MSBA and supported by groups including Americans for Prosperity of Missouri and the Missouri Charter Public School Association.

The committee passed SB 136, sponsored by Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, which would require DESE and districts to create a process for students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and formulate an academic and career plan.

SB 17: Modifies terms used in the elementary and secondary school funding formula

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Sponsor: Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City

SB 255: Establishing the Education Savings Account Program

Sponsor: Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville

SB 360: Modifies provisions of the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

Sponsor: Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester

SB 304: Modifies provisions relating to charter schools

Sponsor: Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring


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