School transportation funding

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JEFFERSON CITY - When Governor Eric Greitens unveiled his budget proposal Monday, he said it provides an increase in transportation funding for public schools.

Some Missouri educators think differently.

Members of the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are speaking out against the governor's proposal, saying the numbers are misleading. 

"He's essentially making a $13 million core cut to a program that's already had cuts," MNEA Legislative Director Otto Fajen said. 

According to DESE historical state transportation payment data, this $13 million cut stems from last year's $105 million appropriated transportation fund. Within that fiscal year, the governor chose to withhold $15 million of that appropriated funding, leaving transportation funds at $90 million. 

In the 2019 proposed budget, Greitens proposed a $92 million transportation appropriation, but the MNEA and DESE said this is not what they hoped. 

Fajen said this state resource is "woefully underfunded" and most districts don't have a local resource to make up for lost revenue. 

"He's [Greitens] trying to make permanently a cut from $105 million, which was not enough, to $92 million which is even more not enough to meet the needs of students across the state," Fajen said. 

According to the DESE payment data, the amount of money appropriated for transportation has decreased drastically over the last twenty years. 

In 2000, DESE reports say $162 million went to transportation aid. That number stayed relatively steady for nine years. When the recession hit in 2008 and 2009, transportation numbers decreased by $55 million. 

DESE Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter said schools will have to make due by pulling funds from other areas in the budget. 

"It's not like they can stop providing transportation, so we're hopeful that they'll potentially receive a little more. But, we have seen a couple years of withholds from the transportation budget," Potter said. 

Potter and Fajen said districts would have to pull funding from areas such as hiring employees and maintaining smaller class sizes.

"A lot of districts will bus kids who are closer than what's absolutely required because it helps improve safety, improve attendance, and so they may have to back away from some services they provide," Fajen said. 

DESE completed a survey this past year on what people wanted to see in the next commissioner and the biggest issue facing education.

Potter said overwhelmingly funding was a top concern. 

"When you look at other states, I think we're 38th or something or even lower by some other measures as far as funding," Potter said. 

KOMU 8 News spoke with Budget Director Dan Haug who said when looking at actual spending, it's $2 million more of what the budget actually had because of the withholding. 

"We think that's the fair way to talk about it," Haug said. 

This is only the first step in the budgeting process. The House and Senate still have to hear and debate the budget.