A temporary fix to the state school funding formula will mean a loss of about $54,660 to the Washington School District next year, but officials say it could have been much worse.
“We had planned for the worst case scenario, which at one time, was a loss of $1.2 million,” said Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer. “We did not know whether a change to the state adequacy target would be made or if proration would prevail.
“In the end, we experienced a loss, but it was minimal,” she added. “The bottom line is our state has not been fully able to implement the school foundation formula as written, designed or intended and that most certainly is a shame.”
In recent weeks, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has rolled out a plan for avoiding what soon could be a $700 million shortfall in the state’s school funding formula.
Without a fix, that shortfall would have triggered a breakdown in the formula by which some districts could have lost upward of 20 percent of state aid, even as other school districts experienced a windfall of new money.
Under the latest plan, the state would reduce the total price tag for funding Missouri’s schools to something closer to what the state can afford.
Doing so allows most districts to receive an amount of state aid closer to what they are currently receiving. Even so, most districts will lose at least a little.
“We’ve been sitting on pins and needles all year not knowing what will happen,” said Shelly Kinder, Washington School District CFO. “Compared to losing over a million dollars we’ll take the small loss.”
Had the formula been fully funded, Washington stood to receive about $550,000 in additional monies, Kinder said.
“We are no longer hold-harmless; we haven’t been since the 2006-07 school year when the new formula went into effect so it would have worked out well for us if the state had fully funded the formula next year,” she added. “But we know to plan for the worse and hope for the best. It could have been much worse.”
The state education department was forced to act because the Missouri Legislature did not. Lawmakers closed the session last month locked in a stalemate that pitted different kinds of school districts against one another.
At the core of the dispute is how ambitious the state should be in its efforts to guarantee an adequate level of school spending for each child.
Currently, the formula, which was adopted in 2005, sets that target at $6,131 per pupil each year.
The problem is that the state needs at least roughly $250 million more to reach that goal. And current law lacks clear guidance on what to do if money runs short.
The situation will only get worse going forward.
The formula calls for that per-pupil target to rise to $6,423 on July 1, with a similar increase the year after that. All told, the state could soon be behind by $700 million in paying for the plan.
Under the latest temporary fix, the state would rein in costs by freezing the $6,131 per-pupil target.
Of course, the approach means that some school districts won’t get the large boost in state aid that they might have had that target risen.
Under the state’s plan, all school districts will have 8 percent to 9 percent less money coming to them than the formula calls for. That’s up from last year when the state had to withhold 7 percent of funds.
Some lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed skepticism that the Legislature has the political will to seek a more permanent fix, though bills on the topic are certain to be filed next year.
Kinder too has her doubts.
“In my personal opinion I don’t see the situation improving any time soon,” she said. “I think it will be at least 2015-16 before that happens.”
In the meantime, the state education department has sought to assure school districts that the state will follow the same philosophy next year in dealing with the school formula as it did this year.
Editor’s Note: Some information in this story is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.