Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Wednesday he will propose "a real investment in our K-12 classrooms and make a significant down payment" toward full funding for public schools.
The Democratic governor wants to fully fund Missouri's school formula by the time he leaves office in January 2017. He said the improving economy has created an opportunity to invest in Missouri's children.
The school formula was created in 2005 by a state law and establishes funding based on a per-pupil spending target. The new formula was to be fully phased in by 2013, but school funding has fallen short of the target every year since 2010, largely because of an economic downturn that squeezed state revenues.
The budget taking effect July 1 provides almost $3.1 billion in basic aid to elementary and secondary schools, which is an increase of $66 million from the previous year but still about $600 million short of what is called for by the formula. The amount demanded by the formula changes annually, and state officials project this year's funding level would be $556 million below the target for the next state budget.
Speaking to education officials in Jefferson City, Nixon said he also wants to expand access to early childhood education and will continue implementing accountability measures such as the Common Core education standards and the state's new school evaluation system.
In addition to funding, a key education issue has been a state law allowing students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby school systems at the unaccredited district's expense.
Students in the St. Louis area for the first time this academic year were allowed to leave the unaccredited Riverview Gardens and Normandy school systems. Figures reported at the start of the school year indicate 1,451 students transferred from Riverview Gardens and 1,189 left Normandy.
State education officials in September recommended $6.8 million in state aid for Normandy, which is projected to run out of money in March. The proposal would need approval from Nixon and state lawmakers.
Nixon told reporters Wednesday he does not expect that step will be necessary at this point. The governor said he is watching the situation with the school districts and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He said there are possible law changes that could be made. Missouri lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January.
"I just think that there are some relatively simple statutory changes there and timeframes that could make that necessary option more effective and efficient," Nixon said.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream said student transfers could require additional funding in next year's budget either through the school funding formula or a specific earmark.
"We're going to have to be involved financially as well as policy-wise," said Stream, R-Kirkwood.