Letter to the Editor

Warning from local superintendents

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dear editor,

As superintendents of Barry County school districts, we feel it is our duty to share some thoughts on the pending legislation of Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Senator Will Kraus of Lee's Summit. This bill has passed by a veto proof margin of 23-11 in the Missouri Senate.

According to the Missouri Division of Budget and Planning, SB 26 will result in a reduction of $104 million in the state budget funds this next fiscal year. Then reduce an estimated $664 million in funding in five years. Proponents of the bill indicate the reduction in taxes will result in an improved economic and financial condition throughout the state that could lead to increased revenues which will offset these predicted reductions.

What happens if it does not? And what impact do the revenue reductions have on our local funding of services, including our schools?

Here are some facts about funding from Missouri kindergarten through 12th grade public schools:

1) In 2005, the state legislature enacted a new foundation formula as the previous formula could not be adequately funded. Despite the enactment of a less expensive formula, funding for Missouri public schools is already $620 million below the required funding level determined by the latest foundation formula.

2) Transportation funding has been reduced by close to $70 million since fiscal year 2009.

3) Parents-as-Teachers (PAT) funding has been cut by 60% since 2009.

4) Your local Barry County school districts have made reductions in staff, programs, services and continue to plan for federal reductions through sequestration.

Despite these funding cuts, our school districts have made significant gains in test scores in the last five years, but the calls for additional accountability continue to rise. School districts are required to do more with less financial resources.

New testing requirements will require districts to make significant upgrades in their technology. The call continues for districts to prepare students to meet the challenges as they enter higher education and the workforce. The Missouri Commissioner of Education has set a goal for our state to be in the top 10 states in the area of student achievement by the year 2020; a goal which your districts are working toward, but cannot do it without adequate funding by the state of Missouri.

Some legislators argue that increased funding does not mean increased student achievement or better schools, but from our experience and by working with teachers and parents, we realize that doing more with less does not lead to increased learning opportunities either. There is only so much cutting you can do without having a significant impact on the quality of education our students receive.

We hope our legislators are not chasing after the Kansas model for all of the wrong reasons. Reducing taxes can be very appealing. We believe most people are in favor of lower taxes, but at what cost to local programs, services and opportunities for our children?

Please ask yourself how the funding gap will be filled if this type of legislation is passed. Better yet, ask your legislators to consider that question before voting to approve Senate Bill 26 or other similar measures. How do they propose to fill the hole in public school funding or other government services that we all depend upon? If we have such a large budget shortfall in the budget already, won't this bill exacerbate the problem?

We all enjoy good roads, dependable law enforcement, emergency and fire services, and great schools; all programs dependent on state and federal funding.

If, as many people suggest, quality public schools are by themselves a strong economic development tool, then what kind of a message does continued reduced funding give? Economic development in this area depends on great schools. Eroding the efforts that our teachers and students work so hard to achieve by choking the life from our local school districts is inappropriate.

The education of our students is the most important job we have in our society. Please think of that when discussing this bill and other legislation that impacts your local schools in Barry County and across this state.

Respectfully submitted,

Brad Hanson, Monett School District

Bob Walker, Southwest School District

Lance Massey, Wheaton School District

Ernie Raney, Exeter School District

Steve Chancellor, Purdy School District

Richard Asbill, Cassville School District