The balancing act of finding ways to fund our public schools and still take care of those individuals who are the most vulnerable is not an undertaking I take lightly. First, we are spending taxpayers’ dollars. But, we are also looking for paths to best meet the needs of our constituents. No one priority should land higher on the list than the other.
Finding the right balance for six million people, spending $27.8 billion is a challenge even in robust budget years. It’s even tougher when the state faces a tight budget. That’s the reality in front of us this year.
After weeks of testimony, discussion, and debate, the Senate sent our recommendations for the operating budget back to the House this week. While both chambers differed on certain line-items, for the first time in more than a decade, the Missouri General Assembly will fully fund the state’s education Foundation Formula. Looking at the numbers, my first proposal was to stick with the governor’s recommendation and fund the formula by an additional $3.2 million. Due to the will of the body, the amendment to fully fund the formula was added during floor debate. The budget is a balancing act, and every Legislator’s voice matters. While the amendment will cause us to make some other changes during conference with the House, it will show our commitment to the Show-Me State.
Other budget highlights include increasing Early Childhood Special Education funding by about $12 million and $2 million of general revenue will be used for the Virtual Schools Program. The Senate’s budget would also fund MOSERS, the Missouri State Employee Retirement System, by nearly $46 million to keep the pension fund solvent. The Senate also restored a 1.5 percent provider rate cut to health and senior services. The Senate also agreed to fully fund the scholarship program Bright Flight as well as increased funding to the Show-Me ECHO program to $3 million.
The work is not over yet. The Senate will still need to conference with the House on most of the budget bills before they are sent to the governor for his signature, but I feel confident the work will be done by the Constitutional deadline. We have a very talented and capable staff and committee, and I want to sincerely thank them for all of their hard work and dedication they’ve shown over the past few months.
The next fiscal year begins on July 1. The General Assembly has until 6 p.m. on May 5 to get the final budget to the governor’s desk. We might have a long week ahead of us, but the time spent working out the details and finding the right balance for Missourians is worth it.
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla