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Increased charter school funding goes to Missouri House

The Missouri Legislature is moving closer to providing increased funding for charter schools. The Senate passed a bill by a vote of 29 to five, and it now will go back to the House to approve and send on to Gov. Mike Parson.

For several years, charter school proponents have urged lawmakers to equalize funding for charter schools. The current funding method relies on outdated property values, resulting in charter schools in Kansas City receiving about $1,700 less per student on average, while in St. Louis the amount was $2,500 less.

A new version of the bill was unveiled earlier in April that would close the gap in funding for charter schools through the state’s foundation formula, the method by which Missouri calculates aid for schools, rather than by transferring funds from traditional school districts. St. Louis Public Schools and public education advocates had staunchly opposed the latter option.

But the compromise stalled for a week over the bill’s new cost, with some lawmakers pointing to the estimated additional $62 million in state funds that would be spent initially as a result of the new charter funding mechanism. The cost is “a little big,” Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, said during a Senate Committee on Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight hearing.

“This also would put the state on the hook for future charter schools and their funding equity so to speak as well,” said Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield and chair of the committee, noting costs would then grow from the fiscal analysis’ estimates.

The bill ultimately passed out of the committee by a vote of six to one, with Hough the lone vote in opposition. The bill also includes additional accountability measures for charter schools and new provisions regarding virtual education, such as giving parents the ultimate say on whether their child enrolls in Missouri’s virtual education program.

The House has held off giving the bill final approval as it waits to see if the Senate can pass some version of open enrollment legislation, which would allow students to attend a school district outside of the one in which they reside.

The Missouri legislature has approved a $49 billion budget for the next fiscal year — the largest in state history. Republicans led the push to provide more money for teachers, income tax relief, rural road work and a variety of improvement projects across the state.

The House and Senate voted to advance a total of 17 budget bills to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, with one bill serving as a second supplemental budget for the fiscal year that ends in roughly two months. The deadline to complete the budget was 6 p.m. Friday. Parson has until July 1 to sign the budget bills into law or veto them. The budget passed last year was $35 billion.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice