April 10, 2003

Financial Picture Continues To Get Darker For Public Schools

A gloomy picture for school financing in the state of Missouri continues to get darker as state budget officials have predicted that education may face cuts of up to $300 million next fiscal year. "Each week the news for education continues to deteriorate" stated Scotland County R-I Superintendent LeRoy Huff. "Unless drastic action is taken by the General Assembly and the Governor, it is no exaggeration to state that public elementary and secondary education will find itself in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930's." Huff stated he will be among educators from across the state converging on Jefferson City April 9 for an education funding rally at the State Capital to lobby for the elimination of budget cuts for the state's public schools. He is encouraging all residents concerned about proposed funding reductions for education to try to attend the event or at least to contact their state senator and representative to voice their opposition to the cuts. "This is no time to sit on the sidelines and let someone else do this important work," stated Huff. "If we choose not to become involved, we will be forced to bear part of the burden when public education succumbs to the unprecedented reductions currently being discussed." While the dollar figures continue to fluctuate, one constant has been the fact that education will be facing some form of budget cuts next year. The lowest amount currently being discussed is a $148 million cut with the latest news out of Jefferson City being the possibility this might increase to $300 million. Earlier this year the Missouri Commissioner of Education addressed an assembled body of school superintendents. His presentation stated that a cut of $100 million in state education funding would cause as many as 160 Missouri public schools to be classified as financially distressed. Currently only six of the states 524 public schools fall into this category. The program painted a dark picture predicting more than 30 percent of the state's schools would experience financial problems due to a hypothetical $100 million cut. "His figures only reflect a $100 million reduction in state aid, and I remind you that the lowest figure being discussed in Jefferson City is $148 million," Huff said. "This figure might escalate to $300 million dollars. One can only speculate that the number of schools to be classified as financially stressed will be significantly higher when we use the present figures of $148 million or more dollars for the next fiscal year." Missouri's public schools have already witnessed funding reductions in the current 2002-03 fiscal year of $61 million. That figure was reduced from the proposed level of $205 million by the sale of bonds on the state's tobacco settlement monies. The cuts resulted in a funding loss of more than $47,000 for SCR-I this year and have left officials concerned that there may still be additional withholdings before the current fiscal year is completed. If the education funding cuts do skyrocket to the $300 million level as predicted it would mean a funding reduction of more than $400,000 next year for the school. Huff said the budget problems are compounding a problem of declining enrollment at SCR-I that further reduces state funding for the district. The state aid is based on the district's average daily attendance, which has dropped from 706 to 665 and will be down to 621 for calculation purposes on next year's state funding formula. Still Huff noted that SCR-I is in better shape than many districts because the district's board of education has worked with the administration to build positive balances and reserves. Of course these reserves will likely evaporate rather quickly if state funding issues are not resolved. "This crisis is real," stated Huff. "The consequences will be devastating to children, and the opportunity for schools to recover will take years if these reductions take affect. Public education as we know it will be negatively impacted for the foreseeable future." The obvious impacts of funding cuts will be larger class sizes, fewer teachers and a decreased number of offerings. "The options currently being considered are not acceptable if we care about our children's future," Huff stated. "There have been dramatic reductions already announced for next year by several schools in northeast Missouri, and no doubt other schools will be forced to follow suit in the next few months."

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