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Schools to get $123 million as Parson releases budget withholdings

Missouri public schools will receive $123 million withheld from the state education budget, as Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday that he had ended all restrictions on general revenue spending in the current budget.

The release comes earlier than anticipated. When state Budget Director Dan Haug laid out Parson’s spending proposal for the coming year in January, he said a decision on releasing funds was likely to come in April.

But state revenues continued to grow strongly in January and February, increasing 18 percent in January over the previous year and 8 percent through Friday for February. The budget proposed by Parson in January projected a $1.1 billion general revenue surplus on June 30.

In addition, the state would receive as much as $4.5 billion from a COVID-19 relief bill passed Friday in the House of Representatives.

The second biggest item in the $280.8 million released Monday is $45.9 million for repair and maintenance of state facilities.

“Thanks to our balanced approach to COVID-19, Missouri is in a much better position than what was originally projected,” Parson, a Republican, said in a news release. 

Schools will be happy to receive the money because it means items cut from budgets because of state funding shortfalls can be restored, said Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association.

“It will help districts meet some of their extraordinary expenses related to the pandemic this year, including addressing some of the emotional and social needs of students,” Ghan said.

When he signed the budget bills in June 2020, Parson restricted $438 million in general revenue spending. He released $38 million in October and $119 million in January.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to close or restrict operations starting in March 2020 as local health authorities issued stay-at-home orders. After those orders were lifted, many communities kept limits on indoor activities and businesses in place.

At the end of March, Haug warned of “unprecedented drops in revenue” rivaling the 13 percent decline that marked the 2008 recession.

Unemployment peaked at 10.2 percent in April and projections in June indicated it would increase to about 16 percent for much of the current fiscal year, the release from Parson’s office said.

Instead, unemployment is lower in Missouri than the national average, officially 5.8 percent in December, the last month with available data.

Other spending items that saw funding released include $10.6 million for a water resource program operated by the Department of Natural Resources, $4.7 million for Area Agencies on Aging and $3 million for sheltered workshops employing people with disabilities.

The public school funding release will help support districts planning to expand summer school programs to help students catch up from lost class time due to COVID-19.

Teachers will become eligible for vaccinations on March 15.

“If vaccinations occur and environments are safe, I think you are going to see a pretty strong effort for summer school,” said Doug Hayter, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

In November, more than 100 school districts and charter schools with more than 200,000 students were only providing virtual education. As of Monday, that was down to 25 districts and charter schools, with about 65,000 students, in online-only learning.

There are 557 school districts and charter schools, with 878,627 students, in Missouri.

Districts are “pretty thrilled” by the funding release because the foundation formula is one of the basic supports for school district budgets, Hayter said. He noted that a similar amount was withheld from district budgets but not released in fiscal 2020.

“Part of that money undoubtedly will help with the shortfall from last year,” Hayter said.

This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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