Missouri funding has been insufficient to help improve underperforming schools

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) says it has requested millions to help improve struggling K-12 school districts. This funding has been insufficient over the years.

state board of education

At a Missouri Board of Education meeting, state education commissioner Dr. Margie Vandeven said the department has been asking for about $6 million for about the past decade.

“We have consistently requested additional funding for improvement efforts to support a district or school when it has not been accredited or has been tentatively accredited. And we are not receiving those funds at the moment,” she said. “We’ve been working for probably about a decade trying to get credit to support schools better.”

“This $6 million request has been in the budget for years and has been deftly pulled out for years,” Branson board member Peter Herschend said.

This means that some underperforming schools receive support to improve student performance and others do not.

There are state legislators who support school choice and are sometimes quick to say that some traditional K-12 schools are failing. These discussions can be in the middle of a budget bill, charter school funding bill, or school voucher legislation, for example.

Some will brag that the Legislative Assembly fully funds the formula to fund public education. What they often don’t mention is that efforts to help these struggling schools get back on track aren’t fully funded.

According to the department, it requested $7 million in fiscal year 2018. The governor and legislature did not fund this line item.

In fiscal year 2019, the agency said it did not request funding for this effort.

DESE requested $5.5 million for the following fiscal year. The Governor and Legislature did not fund this line item.

The fiscal year 2021 budget included a ministry request for $380,000 for a program called Continuous Improvement to help individual school buildings. An additional $3.5 million has been requested for the School Rehabilitation Act to help at the district level. Governor Mike Parson and the Legislative Assembly did not fund either position.

In the current year budget, the agency requested $1.36 million for continuous improvement; no departmental request was made for the School Turnaround Act. The Legislative Assembly designated $3.25 million. After Governor Mike Parson vetoed a position, $975,000 remained to fund school improvement tools.

For fiscal year 2023, the department requested $860,000 for continuous improvement and $975,000 in School Turnaround Act funds. The governor’s request only included $975,000 in School Turnaround Act funds.

The Legislature is still working on the fiscal year 2023 budget. Missouri has billions in the bank and lawmakers are deciding where they want the money to go.

Council Chairman Charlie Shields of St. Joseph, in northwest Missouri, said the council and department will continue to ask for money, but as lawmakers come and go, other ideas for funding for school improvement will also do so.

“The only hope to continue the process is that the seller will push to keep the money in there and it could happen,” he said.

According to DESE, there is no legal requirement to fund school improvement efforts in tentatively accredited or unaccredited districts. However, because tentatively accredited or unaccredited districts often contain underperforming schools, the department says it is maximizing resources to benefit students in those schools.

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