Double-Speak or Profound Irony Related to Education Funding in Missouri

One of the major sources of education funding in Missouri is the revenues produced by the state lottery and from riverboat gambling, both of which have been down this year. The state provides 36.76% of the funding for K-12 education, and 16.6% of that funding comes from the lottery and gaming. I could not find comparable statistics for higher-education funding, but the state’s total allocation to higher education is about $800 million.

In January, there was a $44 million shortfall, and Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, asked the legislature to cover that shortfall with a supplemental allocation to the state budget. But both the Missouri House and Senate are controlled by large Republican majorities, which appropriated only $22 million of the $44 million. So, Nixon announced that $15.6 million would be withheld from K-12 funding and $3.2 million from higher education.

Now, less than six months later, Nixon has announced that an additional $24.6 million will be withheld from K-12 funding and $10.5 million for higher education.

These cuts due to fluctuations in lottery and other gaming revenues have been a recurring issue since the Great Recession. In 2012, Nixon was able to reverse some of the cuts made earlier in that year when a huge Mega-Millions jackpot drove up lottery revenues. But it is, very obviously, a very dubious way of funding any public institution, but especially public education. 

These cuts come on top of the passage, over Nixon’s veto, of a new Missouri bill allowing a business deduction to be taken on personal income tax returns. The bill was modeled after a similar bill passed under Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas, a bill that has had a major impact on that state’s revenues and its allocations, especially for public education. In Missouri, it is projected to reduce state revenues by about $620 million, while providing disproportionate tax reductions for the state’s wealthiest residents: a $55 reduction for a family with an annual income of $50,000, and about an $8,000 reduction for a family with an income of $500,000. These reductions in revenue are expected to impact education funding, in particular, in Missouri as they have in Kansas.

To defend the funding cuts that it has made, the leadership in the Missouri legislature has cited the fact that the total state allocation for public education in Missouri has increased every year, even with the cuts. The St Louis Post-Dispatch has noted, however, that such an assertion is disingenuous and self-servingly so because it completely ignores the impact of inflation and it obscures the fact that the allocations for public education have represented a declining portion of the state budget—and thus a declining political priority–for the last decade.

In other news, Republican House Speaker Tim Jones has also made “right to work” legislation a major legislative goal. In April, the House fell just four votes short of the total needed to advance the legislation to the Senate, where the Republican majority was, however, much less enthusiastic about union-busting.

So Gov. Nixon has certainly had his hands full and appears to be doing his best to preserve middle-class interests against attacks on public education funding and workers’ rights.

In that context, his public statement on the recurring funding cuts to K-12 and higher education is either one of the more remarkable examples of political double-speak or one of the most ironic political declarations of the year thus far: “Funding shortfalls from sources dedicated for education require that I take the appropriate action to keep our state on a fiscally responsible path that reflects our commitment to Missouri’s students.”



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