May 11, 2020

The Missouri Legislature finalized the FY21 budget last Friday, just hours before the constitutional deadline. In past years, we would offer thanks to the Legislature for having added tens of millions of dollars to fully fund the foundation formula and for having added millions to the school transportation categorical. Obviously, with all that has taken place in recent weeks/months, additional dollars for education will not be a part of the plan. Our state has been financially devastated by the pandemic. To date, the state has had to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the current year’s budget and has finalized plans to cut hundreds of millions more in next year’s budget. 

The Second Regular Session of the 100th General Assembly comes to an end this Friday, May 15 at 6pm. The session began fast and furious with numerous education reforms moving at an alarming rate. Then, a global pandemic hit and brought everything to a standstill. With the Legislature returning on April 27th, education reform topics and harmful property assessment modifications have once again become a focal point. With the time lost, legislators attempted to force as many bills through as they could during the final three weeks of session.

The impacts of COVID-19 have made the public school budget process extremely unpredictable. Last week’s FY21 finalized budget will most likely face numerous revisions as the year unfolds, making most numbers unreliable when trying to make accurate school year budget plans. This pandemic has brought severe stress to Missouri’s economy. Local economies have also been affected, and local political subdivisions are bracing for significant financial stress. All school budgets will be facing enormous uncertainties. We have been tasked with dramatically altering the way we deliver instruction for the current year. This will assuredly continue through the summer months and potentially the Fall depending on the length of the pandemic. Sales tax revenues are dropping dramatically. Missouri school districts will, in all likelihood, lose millions in revenue from Prop C funds. Fully funding the foundation formula is a tremendous achievement for the Legislature, and that effort is greatly appreciated. However, we also realize that economic realities cannot be avoided, and the Governor may be forced to withhold funding at some point. All of that being said…. due to these uncertainties, St. James R-I Schools will be faced with waiting until June before presenting a very preliminary FY21 budget. We foresee many budget adjustments during the academic year once we learn more about our financial realities. We are presently researching and organizing to plan for the future. However, we remain unsure about a seated summer school and what school will look like this upcoming Fall. There should be more definitive information by this time next week about whether or not the Governor will be approving the proposed state budget.

During these uncertain times, we are hopeful our legislators will not push to approve several education issues which could severely hurt our abilities to serve our students. Changes to the funding distribution for charter schools, creation of charter recovery high schools with open enrollment, virtual school expansion with no local school district oversight, a costly reading intervention program mandate, and harmful modifications to property assessment protocols, are among the harmful provisions. 

Despite these challenges, our State Legislature found a way to still fund public education with only minimal cuts in the grand scheme of things. A special thanks for this year’s budget goes to Senator Dan Hegeman (R – Cosby), the Senate Appropriations Chair and to Representative Cody Smith (R – Carthage), the House Budget Chair. Senators Mike Berskoetter and Justin Brown and Representatives Tom Hurst and Jason Chipman represent portions of the St. James R-I School District. They too should be commended for appropriately representing us in Jefferson City. Despite the dire safety and economic circumstances, these men and women have prioritized funding for public schools. Their financial support for public education should be praised and not forgotten. 

Public school districts in Missouri will persevere through this situation the same way we have always navigated through other challenges in the past. The St. James R-I Board of Education and District Leadership will be making many important decisions this summer as we develop plans to safely and responsibly return to some semblance of normalcy in the future. It may not feel or look the same upon our return, but we will do everything within reason to find a way to provide the very best educational opportunities that our students deserve. I would like to thank every supporter in our state and community who continue to make public education a priority during these uncertain and difficult economic times.