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Expert says Missouri needs to spend $800 million more on schools


Jefferson City, MO – An expert who testified Thursday in a lawsuit over Missouri's education funding formula says the state should spend $800 million more than it does on schools.

The assertion by consultant John Myers, who has studied school finance in more than 20 states, provided a second expert opinion for school districts suing the state on claims it doesn't spend enough on public schools and distributes the money unfairly.

A day earlier, another expert used various statistical models to assert that Missouri needs to add as much as $1.3 billion to public schools.

Myers' company conducted a study in 2003 for an organization made up of Missouri education and business groups that found the state should have spent an additional $913 million during the 2001-02 school year to provide students an adequate education.

Thursday, Myers said he updated his research and found that Missouri schools needed about $800 million more, as of last school year. Myers said he used the basic approach from a few years ago and updated it to account for inflation, changes in student populations and additional money the state has directed toward education.

The state's attorney responded that the new formula is expected to add $846 million to schools when fully phased in over several years.

John Munich, a private attorney hired to help defend Missouri's school funding system, countered during cross examination that there's no proof higher funding leads to improvement in academic performance.

"There is an absence of such a simple relationship," Munich said. "Some researchers believe there is no clear statistical relationship between spending and academic performance. There is no scientific certainty about the number of dollars it would take to raise achievement to a specified level."

Myers responded that while there's no precise number to cite, there is a clear pattern.

"Higher performing places spend more money," he said. "There's public policy science as well as pure mathematical science."

Munich did his own calculations using the school data and Myers' research and found that the consultant's recommendations call for adding an average of $4,875 per student for the 25 best-performing districts, but just $2,551 per student on average for the 25 worst-performing districts.

"Does that strike you as something that makes sense?" he asked.

But Myers responded that the attorney's conclusion was oversimplified and did not account for the differences in district size and student demographics. "Your simple averages are not based upon reality," he said. "What makes sense is small school districts need more money."

Myers blended two research methods to complete his data, using both a "successful schools" and a "professional judgment" approach. The successful schools model, with some variations, is what lawmakers used to craft the new school funding plan in 2005, taking a group of districts that scored highest on a state performance report and basing statewide spending targets on what those districts spend.

The professional judgment model uses panels of education experts, generally teachers, administrators and school board members, to determine what resources are needed for students to achieve state performance standards. That model generally yields a higher cost figure, and Munich attacked the method as driving up the cost by calling for smaller class sizes and higher salaries, among other things.

In Missouri, Myers determined that the basic spending level per child should be $5,664 in 2001-02 under the successful schools model and $7,832 under the professional judgment model.

He then adjusted to account for a school district's size and to provide extra funds for teaching poor and special education students and those learning English.

Missouri's spending target under the new formula is $6,117, and it will be adjusted every few years. The new formula is being phased in over several years.