I often hear people complain that Missouri’s lawmakers don’t fully fund public education. Let’s be really clear about the terms we use here, because there is a distinction to be made between “underfunding public schools” and “underfunding the foundation formula.” The former could be a serious problem, while the latter may not be. Let me explain.
Underfunding public schools implies that we are not giving schools enough money to adequately educate students. This could obviously cause serious problems. Some make this claim when they say Missouri doesn’t fully fund public education, but not all. What most people are referring to is the Foundation Formula—the mechanism that determines how much the state is supposed to give to schools. Right now, Missouri is underfunding the formula to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
It is possible to underfund the formula and yet not underfund public schools. How so? The formula is an imperfect construction of lawmakers and lobbyists. While it is useful, there is no reason to believe it has identified the precise amount of money that schools need. That, however, is a discussion for another day.