State Funding Cuts Push Districts To Do New Math

Joyce Coates
County Reporter
State revenue shortfalls resulting from COVID-19 closures throughout Missouri have led to a series of budget cuts to K-12 school funding. The latest cut, as Governor Parson announced on June 1, 2020, of approximately $123M from K-12 Foundation Funding.
The State Adequacy Target (SAT), a factor in the foundation funding formula, is based on average spending per student. The $6,375 originally set for fiscal year 2020 was reduced to $6,310.87. Kevin Smith, Lincoln R-2 schools superintendent, estimates his district’s loss will be approximately $35,000. 
Tim Roling, superintendent of Cole Camp R-1 district, said, “I believe by the time all is said and done, the SAT will be substantially lower. That will be something we have to make constant adjustments to in the near future.”
Superintendent Shawn Poyser, Warsaw R-9 district, said “no one including the Governor knows for sure what the final number will be.” R-9 “could easily see $200,000-$300,000 reductions in formula payments.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 29, 2020) Missouri’s 13 casinos, closed since March 17, bring in approximately $60M in revenue allocated in part to schools and universities, and local governments. Because of the closings, schools received no payments in May. Casinos reopened this month, nevertheless, gaming revenue fell from $315M to $193M, leaving schools with significant reductions in their June payments. 
Kevin Smith said the cut to Lincoln’s R-2 will be 39 percent of what it normally receives in June from gaming funds. Although cuts will be shared between this year and the next, making it easier to budget, Smith said “at the end of it all it is still a major cut in funding and some tough decisions will have to be made.” 
Shawn Poyser said Warsaw’s R-9 district does not expect much gaming revenue coming in for June. However, under the CARES Act, “we could receive $300,000 plus in ESSER Funds; about 83 percent of our 2019-2020 Title Fund Act. This could be a big help for our district. We would likely use the funds to pay teacher salaries.”
ESSER, or the “Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund,” allocates $13.2 billion authorized under the CARES Act for the nation’s K-12 schools, public and private.
Smith said regarding the Lincoln R-2 district, “We have currently received $122,400 through the CARES Act to help with some of the recurring costs during the shutdown and in preparation for starting the new school year.”
Budget cuts put four of Missouri’s education programs at risk: technology, Wi-fi hotspots for online learning; teacher salaries and food delivery. Benton County’s school districts, however, seem prepared to adjust to the changing circumstances.
Superintendent Poyser said, “Our chrome book supply is ample for the time being. No effect on Hot-Spots; we are going to leave them up and running. We are not going to add to the teacher base, but we are giving a step [increase]. All staff will receive a raise. Food delivery will remain weekly through June.”
Poyser added that they are being conservative right now, and admits that “this is the toughest year to budget revenues in decades.” Four years ago, he said, the annual budget--$13,000,000—had a $1.2 million deficit, but this year is the first with a balanced budget that was accomplished without “riffing staff, raising taxes, or freezing salaries.”
Similarly, Kevin Smith said Lincoln’s R-2 district plans no cuts in any of the four areas; however, for now, “we are not increasing the teacher salary base.”
As for summer school plans, Smith said they will continue the Credit Recovery program in August, as the district has done for the past several years. Roling said Cole Camp plans to have a limited summer school this year. “We are offering high school credit recovery and driver education.”
Warsaw’s R-9 district open enrollment begins soon, Poyser said, for its Summer School program planned for July 7 through July 31, from 8 AM to 3:30 PM.
Earlier, on April 21 Governor Parson announced cuts to school transportation funds, with deeper cuts in his June 1 announcement --an additional 13 percent reduction. 
Poyser said Warsaw saved money while the buses were not running, which neutralizes the impact of the most recent cuts. R-9’s bus driver pool had already been filled, but they are always looking for substitute drivers. Lincoln’s small R-2 district receives little in transportation funds in any case, so will not make any changes in driver positions or routes.
“Bus drivers are incredibly valuable team members,” Roling said, noting that Cole Camp had a full staff at the time transportation cuts were announced.  “Transportation is always a challenge for school districts, and will continue to be as states struggle to fund everything they would like to fund.”