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House panel considers changes to Missouri's school funding formula

by Anna Campbell | March 23, 2023 at 4:02 a.m.

The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education reviewed a proposal that could significantly change the funding stream for Missouri schools Wednesday.

HB 529, sponsored by Rep. John Black, R-Marshfield, would gradually remove the cap on the state adequacy target over ten years. The state adequacy target is a number that represents what the average high-performing district --as determined every two years-- spends per pupil. That number is used to calculate funding for all other public districts. Today's SAT is $6,375 per pupil.

Currently, the SAT is capped at an annual 5 percent increase, but the bill would allow the percentage to increase by a point every two years.

The bill carries a hefty fiscal note. All told, when fully implemented, the bill's price tag could be a total of a $503 million increase over the 2024 budget. Black acknowledged that's a lot of money, but said that taking it a bit at a time may be more manageable.

"And if we take it in iterations, as we propose here, you can see that the individual impact in a particular year, fiscally, I don't believe would be that great," he said. He said it would be a trade-off that might prevent additional needs for education funding as well.

Black said that over the past few years, there has been a great interest in putting more money in schools to raise teacher salaries, including direct increases and Career Ladder.

"The premise here is that if we would take the cap off the SAT and just let it go the way that it would under the formula, some of those extraordinary measures might not be necessary. The schools would just get the money that the formula would allow without the cap on the SAT," he said.

Another provision of the bill would prohibit districts offering any superintendent or administrator a salary of more than 3.5 times the average full-time teacher salary. Black said according to the last information he had received, 60 superintendents fell in this group.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, told Black he would rather the superintendent provision come out of the bill to enable it to move forward.

Black said he included the superintendent provision because he thought people might be concerned that increased funding would end up going to the superintendent, but he said he would be willing to work with the committee if it felt that was an issue.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Deputy Commissioner Kari Monsees explained that the fiscal note was calculated based on the last set of high-performance districts, which could change this coming summer.

No one testified in favor or support of the bill.

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, presented HB 558, which would modify the school accountability system in Missouri. Among the provisions of the bill are that it would define grade level standards and require the state board to assign each public school a grade of A-F. It would also establish panels to determine grading scales on growth, achievement, graduation rates and other criteria, and outlines procedures if a school is not meeting criteria.

DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven testified that some of the items in Haffner's bill were addressed by the latest iteration of the Missouri School Improvement Plan, including an emphasis on growth and an improvement plan requirement for all local education agencies.

Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, said she wasn't sure about the size of the bill and would rather see a work-study group dive into the issue.

Haffner said he didn't want to see the issue pushed off to a later date.

Kelley said DESE is currently in the process of making changes, so if the legislature is leaning toward this change, it should "halt DESE."

The committee also heard a bill sponsored by Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, that would limit the circumstances under which preschool through third grade students could be suspended from school.

The committee passed HB 106, a bill that would require the state education department to develop language acquisition milestones for deaf and hard of hearing children from birth to five years old, and HB 232, which would require cursive instruction.

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