A plan to fully fund Missouri’s K-12 public schools has opened a rift between House and Senate Republicans, with battle lines forming over the cost of early childhood education.
On Tuesday, the House gave initial approval to the state’s $27 billion budget.
The plan includes $45 million in additional money for K-12 schools, a move that for the first time would fully fund the state’s school aid formula at roughly $3.4 billion. It also includes $36 million more for school transportation than was proposed by Gov. Eric Greitens, who had asked for cuts.
The state for years has failed to meet school funding goals created more than a decade ago by the legislature. House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, said his focus coming into budget deliberations this year was to change that.
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“We made education our priority in the House budget,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve said since the beginning that it is our top priority.”
But Sen. Dan Brown, a Rolla Republican who chairs the Senate appropriations committee, said he had no intention of following the House’s lead.
Brown’s reason: a law passed in 2014 that would require the state to cover the costs of early childhood education a year after the formula is fully funded.
That could mean millions in additional spending as school districts start receiving state aid to pay for early childhood education programs based on the number of enrolled students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.
The state can’t afford it, Brown said.
“I don’t think our committee will fully fund the foundation formula as described,” Brown told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The budget plan debated Tuesday by the House also includes nearly $50 million in funding cuts for the University of Missouri System. But some Republican lawmakers — still upset over unrest in 2015 on the university’s Columbia campus sparked by racial tension, as well as a handful of other events involving the school — wanted the cuts to be deeper.
Rep. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican, offered two amendments that would have removed an additional $1 million from the system’s budget.
The first amendment was targeted to fund a program to attract senior citizens to the state. The second was to be used to help pay for a pilot project to allow families to continue to receive child care benefits if their income slightly exceeds the state’s income eligibility limit.
Both amendments were soundly defeated.
Fitzpatrick noted the lingering ill will felt by many lawmakers toward the university. But he urged his colleagues to oppose any effort to cut even more funding, noting that while all other universities in the state were facing a 6.5 percent cut, the UM System was seeing funds cut 9 percent.
“I don’t like any more than any of you do some of the things that have happened at the university,” he said. “That being said, there’s a new president, and he’s started implementing changes. A 9 percent cut in one year is pretty significant.”
Lawmakers also debated wording inserted in the budget stating “no funds shall be used for any costs associated with the tolling of interstate highways.”
Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Kansas City Republican, offered an amendment deleting the phrase from the budget, noting that the state has chronically underfunded its transportation infrastructure.
State funds for road and bridge repair have tumbled in recent years, from $1.3 billion in 2009 to an estimated $800 million by 2017. A solution to that funding shortfall has proved elusive, as both lawmakers and the public have largely opposed statewide tax increases.
“Why on Earth would we want to take one of the options off the table, when we’re faced with such a massive funding issue?” Corlew said.
Rep. Justin Alferman, a Gasconade County Republican, said he has a problem with the fact that the discussion about tolling has always focused on Interstate 70 and never includes any other major roadway.
“I don’t want to fund the entire state’s transportation infrastructure on the backs of communities hugging the I-70 corridor,” Alferman said.
Corlew’s amendment was defeated on a voice vote.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the budget to expand Medicaid eligibility as envisioned under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Lawmakers in Kansas took steps towards Medicaid expansion, but it was vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Missouri’s eligibility for Medicaid is among the lowest in the country — less than $5,000 in annual income for a family of four. It’s been estimated that Medicaid expansion would allow roughly 300,000 uninsured Missourians to get coverage.
Democrats argued Tuesday that the failure of GOP efforts in Congress to repeal the federal health care law means Medicaid expansion should be back on the table. A previous attempt to expand Medicaid last week was beaten back by Republicans.
The expansion amendment was defeated on a 111-39 vote.
The House will vote to send the budget to the Senate on Thursday. The state spending plan must be sent to the governor by May 5.