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Joint-committee passes foundation formula fix

March 08, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Although the vote's result would have no impact on the proposal, the joint Senate-House committee assigned to recommend a fix to the formula used to distribute state money to schools passed a version Tuesday night.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, praised the committee for its work but predicted the proposal is only the starting point for later debate in the Senate and House.

"The work of this committee was very important to establish the conceptual framework of what a student-need based formula should look like," he said.

But critics said they were bothered that Shields' plan could not be changed, no matter the vote's outcome.

"That's just another indication of how non-receptive this administration is to good, quality suggestions," Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis City, said. "There's nothing that has been said yet that proves that this proposed legislation is the best legislation, but the goal is to cram it down the public's throat regardless.

Shields' plan would require spending $6,117 per student. The source of funding would be divided between the state and local districts according to a formula considering average teacher salary, the number of students in certain costlier programs and the level of local funding.

Columbia schools would receiv an additional $1.3 million in the formula's first year but its appropriations would be frozen at that level.

Shields' plan would cost the state about $500 million spread over three to five years.

Despite the understanding that members were voting on the concept and not the specific principles of the plan, the debate extended for several hours and prompted some prodding from Republican members.

In response to a lengthy exchange between Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra and committee staff members, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, questioned the need for such thorough inquiry.

"This is deliberately drafted in order to avoid the kind of inquiry you are feeling like you need to make right now because it's so general," he said.

Bringer said her questions were reasonable for a situation in which members were presented with a 132-page bill immediately before the meeting and then asked to vote on it at the end.

Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, said the existing formula rewards districts for raising their tax levy and that the new formula is unfair because it punishes those districts with less state money.

"We've operated under a formula for 12 years that rewarded you for having a high tax levy," he said. "Now, we're switching 180 degrees, and the districts above the levy would lose state money."

The leader of the House committee which will consider the joint committee's proposal Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, said there was no plan to fund Shields' idea and changing the formula to address Wallace's concerns would be even costlier.

Baker said the House committee would begin hearings Monday. Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, who said some of the provisions will "likely have some rough sledding," said the first committee hearings would begin Tuesday.