One of the major items the General Assembly continues working on is crafting a balanced state budget. Throughout this process, I have become alarmed by the willingness of the same politicians who claimed education as their top priority while seeking your vote; to vote while they hold office to make major cuts to its funding. Providing Missouri students with a world-class educational opportunity is my top priority and it is why I am fighting to make sure that our spending priorities are focused on education funding first.
Many politicians point to Missouri’s primary funding mechanism, the foundation formula, and boast about holding this funding steady from last year – even though they promised to increase its funding. Pointing to that fact though is a smoke and mirrors trick that hides the truth. In addition to the foundation formula, Missouri funding of education includes categorical add-on programs, which school districts also rely on to meet their budgetary obligations. These categorical programs include funding for early childhood special education, career ladder, transportation, career education, the early childhood development program, and parents as teachers. Consequently, just like the foundation formula, funding cuts to any one of these items has a direct impact on a school district’s ability to provide service to our students.
The major cut I am troubled by and would like to highlight is the Transportation line item. While the foundation formula distributes money on a per-student bases for classroom curriculum, the transportation funding stream provides school districts the needed money to get children each day to and from school. And considering the many miles that buses cover, especially in many of Missouri’s rural school districts, and the rising price of gas, every dollar allotted by the state for transportation is vital.
No matter what the state or school district budget looks like, school districts have to transport students to and from school. So when transportation funding is cut from school districts, they do not stop running the buses; instead, school districts are forced to cut from classrooms and educational programs to cover transportation costs. Therefore, when the Governor and other politicians brag that funding for the foundation formula will stay level while failing to fund the transportation category, they are actually cutting from classrooms.
This is what is currently going on for this school year. In crafting this year’s budget, the General Assembly appropriated $152.7 million for the Transportation line item. However, the Governor decided to withhold $52.5 million from our schools’ transportation funding. To top off the impact of this cut, as schools struggle to find ways to account for the loss of $52.5 million from their classrooms so they can keep the buses running, the Governor held onto $155 million surplus this year to spend next year. Instead of demonstrating Missouri’s priority to fully-fund education by releasing that money to restore the transportation funding, the Governor is choosing to create new programs with this money next year.
The investment in our children’s education is the greatest investment we can make as a State and thus Missouri’s priority should be ensuring that our children are able to access a world class educational opportunity. Any cuts to education, whether to the foundation formula or to transportation line item, jeopardize our children’s future. If politicians’ actions are going to match their rhetoric, then they must fund all aspects of education funding, including the transportation line item.