Tight Budget & Missouri Schools on Lawmaker’s Minds as Mo. Session Starts

(AP) – Missouri lawmakers opened their 2012 session Wednesday with a pledge by legislative leaders to close the state’s projected $500 million budget gap and revamp its underfunded public school system but without any immediate answers about how they would do it.

The session that continues through May 18 will be the last go-around for dozens of lawmakers prohibited from re-election this year because of term limits. Senate President Pro Tem Rob Meyer said the clock is ticking to confront the two lofty financial challenges of the budget crunch and the schools crisis, in which two of Missouri’s largest districts str unaccredited.

“Some predict not much will be accomplished,” Mayer, R-Dexter, said in opening remarks to the chamber. But “we must act, and do so swiftly to pass a balanced budget without a tax increase for the people of Missouri and to help put Missourians back to work in this stagnant and weak economy.”

Lawmakers will have about two weeks of work before Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon presents his budget and policy proposals during his annual State of the State address on Jan. 17. The governor’s budget director already has indicated that every state department is likely to take cuts. Nixon’s administration and Republican legislative leaders alike have indicated that they hope to spare public K-12 school districts from cuts, but there have been no guarantees.

In recent years, Missouri has failed to provide the full amount called for by the formula that funds its more than 500 school districts. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has said that by the 2014 budget, and after some recalculations within the formula, Missouri could need to add more than $700 million on top of what currently is spent.

Lawmakers will attempt to tweak the formula during their 2012 session, but there is no agreement yet on how to do that.

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