The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 18, 2013

Jim Horton, guest columnist: Lack of funding will sidetrack education goals

By Jim Horton
Special to The Globe

WEBB CITY, Mo. — As executive director of the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence, a consortium of 45 public school districts, private schools, colleges and universities, I feel it is my duty to share some thoughts on Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit.

This bill has passed by a veto-proof margin of 23-11 in the Missouri Senate. According to the Missouri Division of Budget and Planning, S.B. 26 will result in a reduction of $104 million in the state budget in the next fiscal year and an estimated $664 million reduction in five years. Proponents of the bill indicate the reduction in taxes will result in an improved economic and financial condition throughout the state, resulting in increased revenues that will offset these reductions. My question is, what happens if it does not? And what impact do the revenue reductions have on funding of services in Missouri?

Here are some facts about funding from the Missouri K-12 public schools:

• In 2005, the state Legislature enacted a new foundation formula as the previous formula could not be adequately funded. Despite the enactment of a less expensive formula, funding for Missouri public schools is already $620 million below the required funding level determined by the latest foundation formula.

• Transportation funding has been reduced by close to $70 million since fiscal year 2009.

• The career ladder has been totally eliminated (reduction of $38 million).

• Funding has been drastically reduced for the Regional Professional Development Centers.

• Parents as Teachers funding has been cut by 60 percent since the 2008-09 school year.

Despite these funding cuts, most school districts have made significant gains in test scores in the last five years, but the calls for additional accountability continue to rise. School districts are required to do more with less financial resources. New testing requirements will require districts to make significant upgrades in their technology. Districts are required to spend time and resources implementing new teacher evaluation systems mandated by the state.

The call continues for districts to prepare students to meet the challenges as they enter higher education and the workforce. Chris Nicastro, Missouri commissioner of education, has set a goal for our state to be in the top 10 states in the area of student achievement by the year 2020 — a goal that districts are working toward but cannot achieve without adequate funding by the state. Legislators argue that increased funding does not mean increased student achievement or better schools, but, in my experience as a school superintendent and working with school leaders, districts have made large reductions in expenditures as state funding has been cut. There is only so much cutting you can do without having a significant effect on the quality of education our students receive.

I hope we are not chasing after Kansas for all of the wrong reasons. Reducing taxes can be appealing. I think most people are in favor of lower taxes — but at what cost? I say to legislators: Before you vote to approve Senate Bill 26 or other similar measures, ask yourself how you propose to fill the hole in public school funding or other government services. If we have such a large hole in the budget already, won’t this bill exacerbate the problem? If, as many people suggest, quality public schools are by themselves a strong economic development tool, what kind of a message does continued reduced funding give?

According to information about current legislation, there is a small increase in education funding in next year’s budget. My guess is that will change if S.B. 26 is successful. Legislators must make contingency plans on how to address education funding if this happens. The education of our students is the most important job we have in our society. Please think of that when discussing this bill.

Jim Horton is the executive director of the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence in Webb City.