Thursday, April 27, 2017
Farmington Republican, former teacher on why fully funding Foundation Formula is so important
Providing each child in Missouri with a quality education is one of our greatest responsibilities as lawmakers. For me, education is a passion that started years ago when I began my professional career as a high school teacher in the Branson and Farmington school districts. And although I haven’t taught for quite a long time now, the education of our young people has never been far from my mind.
Whether by serving as a past president and member of the Mineral Area College Board of Trustees, chairing the Senate Education Committee or working to expand career and technical education throughout the state, my goal as a senator and public servant has been to not only support education at all levels, but also to make it relevant to the business needs of our communities. Our future success as a state depends entirely on our ability to provide business and industry with a well-trained, highly qualified workforce. We can’t do that if we aren’t adequately educating our students from their very first days in the classroom to their last. This brings us to the issue of funding.
Back in 2005, the Missouri General Assembly passed a new K-12 education funding plan called the Foundation Formula, which uses a complex formula to determine the amount of funding each school district receives. The goal of the formula has always been to ensure every school district has enough funding to provide an adequate education for their students, regardless of where they live. To work the way it was intended, however, the formula needs to be fully funded — something we’ve never once managed to do in the 12 years since its inception. Underfunded, the formula has created a host of other issues the state has had to spend time and resources addressing.
In 2009, the legislature removed a cap within the formula because it was anticipated that lottery proceeds would increase going forward. Instead, we saw the gap between available funding and the amount needed to achieve full funding grow at an alarming rate to the point the entire formula was in jeopardy of collapsing. To save it, the Legislature passed a bipartisan measure last year to make full funding a possibility.
We made the decision that the formula was worth saving, and we did what we needed to do to fix it. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve run out of reasons not to take that last step of fully funding it. This is why, after years of debate and countless conversations that have gone nowhere, I offered an amendment Tuesday to fully fund the formula by adding $45 million in general revenue dollars back into the education budget bill: House Bill 2. With the support of colleagues from both sides of the aisle — ten Republicans and nine Democrats — I’m pleased to say the amendment passed. The money we voted to restore is the same amount originally passed by the House but later removed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Where others have been critical of my decision to offer a budget amendment during floor debate, I say this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get away from politics and to stop merely talking about making education funding a priority. Amending HB 2 on the Senate floor wasn’t a decision I made lightly because I do respect the budget process and the hard work and long hours the budget committee devotes each and every session. However, the budget is a moving, fluid process, and we ultimately have the right as state senators to do what we believe is best. At the end of the day, education is a nonpartisan issue, which is why it speaks volumes there was an almost equal number of Republican and Democratic senators who believed this was the right thing to do for Missouri’s children, and now was the right time to do it.
As one fellow senator said, what happened Tuesday was truly a historic moment in the Missouri Senate. This week was first and foremost about the education of Missouri’s children, but it was also about finally putting a stake into the ground as to what education means to us as lawmakers. As I said during floor debate, there’s a reason the elementary and secondary education budget is included in HB 2 rather than further down the list. It is because education should and must always be one of our top priorities. Fully funding the formula is the right thing to do and is something that will benefit the state for years to come.
Now that the Senate has approved the budget bills, we’ll move to conference with the House to resolve any remaining differences. One important point: because both chambers are in agreement, the Foundation Formula funding provision is non-nonnegotiable and can’t be changed during conference. At this point, only the governor has the ability to alter the funding level, but we hope and trust that won’t happen.