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Missouri Ranks Next–To-Last Nationally In Funding K-12 Schools, State Auditor Finds

Missouri schools rank 49th in the nation in funds they receive from the state according to a report from State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service
Missouri schools rank 49th in the nation in funds they receive from the state according to a report from State Auditor Nicole Galloway.

The state auditor said lack of funding from the state shifts the burden to Missouri residents, who end up paying higher property taxes to support their schools.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway says Missouri ranks toward the bottom of U.S. states in funding it gives to schools.

The report released Thursday found that, unlike most states, Missouri schools rely heavily on local sources, like property taxes, to fund classrooms.

State money accounts for about 32% of per-student funding, placing Missouri in 49th place nationally for percentage of school resources coming from the state.

"The state is not stepping up to meet the needs of students in Missouri, shifting the burden and leaving Missourians paying higher property taxes to support their schools," Galloway said.

A 2018 report found that 68% of local school districts had seen an increase in reliance on local funding over the past 10 years.

Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, whose district covers part of Clay County, says that depending on local funding sources leads to inequities across districts for those who are unable to pay higher property taxes.

“You see just a great disparity from within a matter of miles, and where a child lives should not dictate the kinds of educational opportunities,” Arthur said. “Even though there are dedicated people in every school district trying to create those opportunities for students, the reality is that it all costs money.”

While Missouri's total funding to schools has remained stable over the last decade, the amount of state funding paid per student has not kept pace with inflation for K-12 education, according to the report.

Thursday's report also looked at funding provided through the State Adequacy Target, the formula used to determine whether the state meets its obligation to fund schools. The target calculates the amount of state funding paid per student based on the average operating expenditures of the top 25 school districts.

Linda Quinley, chief financial and operations officer for Kansas City Public Schools, says that basing the formula on the top schools creates problems for districts like hers.

“Typically, those schools that are able to achieve at the highest are mostly smaller districts, they do not have high poverty rates," Quinley said. "In fact, they have very low poverty rates, and poverty brings learning needs and learning difficulties."

In 2020, Missouri set the cost per student to $6,375 per student, according to the auditor's report.

But Quinley said KCPS spends around $14,000 a year per student. And she said the burden falls on local taxpayers to fund what state dollars don't cover.

“Because if the state would fund more, then it would be probable that in many cities and communities, the public school could charge less taxes,” Quinley said.

Following a study of 10 years' worth of data, the report also showed that the state school funding formula was not fully funded from 2013 to 2017.

The Missouri Legislature then reinstated a spending cap, which let districts to be classified as “fully funded” again, but it also has not matched inflation rates.

The State Adequacy Target has also faced state law changes in recent years that reduce the amount of state funding considered to be "adequate."

“So often, you'll hear GOP members proudly proclaim that we've fully funded our schools, but we know that we're not adequately funding schools,” Arthur said.

The cost per student is one of the factors that determines the state's Foundation Formula, or the amount of basic state aid distributed to Missouri's public school districts.

Arthur says under the SAT changes, the state now provides less money than what it would have under the old formula.

She says she’s also concerned about a bill passed in May that would pay kids to go to K-12 private schools through a tax credit program.

Quinley said that measure will take away funding from public schools over time, since fewer students means less revenue under the state’s funding formula.

“Our costs will not go down, but our revenues will go down, which will make the inefficiency of our system and the disadvantage to our children as to what we can offer even greater,” Quinley said.

Quinley said the bill did make progress in funding transportation. The bill can go into effect only if Missouri budgets at least 40% of the minimum public school transportation funding called for by law.

In the last 15 years, Quinley said funding for transportation has never been more than 19% in Missouri.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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