APNewsBreak: Missouri Gov. Nixon proposing $50M increase in basic aid for public schools

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon plans to propose a $50 million increase in basic school aid during Wednesday's State of the State address, but some education groups already have concerns that it won't be enough to avoid potential cuts.

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The details of the school funding proposal were included in an email sent by a top Nixon staff member to representatives of numerous education groups, one of whom provided a copy to The Associated Press.

School funding is an annual emphasis of both the governor and lawmakers, though they recently have failed to provide as much money as called for under a 2005 state law. Missouri schools are to receive nearly $3.2 billion in basic aid this year. That would have to rise by $482 million — or 15 percent — for schools to be fully funded in the 2016 budget, which takes effect July 1.

Nixon, a Democrat, is to outline his budget and deliver his seventh annual State of the State address Wednesday night to a joint session of the Republican-led House and Senate.

Under Nixon's budget plan, the $50 million proposed increase could be boosted by an additional $79 million if legislators pass several measures to generate revenues, including expanding Medicaid eligibility under the terms of President Barack Obama's health care law. But those proposals have failed in past years, and Republican legislators appear unlikely to pass them this session.

Nixon's plan also includes a $21 million increase in dedicated sales tax funds for schools, which are distributed separately from the basic aid formula.

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Some education groups said a $50 million increase in basic aid wouldn't be enough to avoid cuts in certain school districts.

"The amount is disappointing," said Mike Wood, the government relations director for the Missouri State Teachers Association. "This is going to create problems for our schools. ... It could mean teacher layoffs."

The concerns stem from a new law that prohibits the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from prorating funding for certain districts when the state doesn't fully fund the school formula.

To ensure that all public schools receive at least the same amount as this school year would require a $75 million state funding increase, according to the Missouri Council of School Administrators. And for various categories of schools to each receive roughly the same percentage increase would require a $125 million funding hike.

Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said a $50 million increase could result in more money for some schools and less for others. That could affect staffing levels, because about 80 percent of a typical district's operating budget goes toward personnel, he said.

"We certainly appreciate the attempt to provide additional state funding for schools through the formula by Gov. Jay Nixon, but we still have a long way to go until we're fully funding the formula at the levels the Legislature set years ago," Ghan said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan said he has no target yet for how much money he hopes to provide to schools. But he said next year's budget likely will be lean, because Missouri's revenue growth is barely half of what is needed to meet the current budget.

"New spending is going to be tough," Flanigan, R-Carthage, said.

The email from Nixon's senior policy adviser, Mike Nietzel, said the governor also is proposing additional funding to expand preschool programs for low-income working families and to provide grants focused on science, technology, engineering and math to an additional 350 elementary schools.

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