Missouri Auditor uses union data, which conflicts with education department, to claim ‘poor’ state funding

(The Center Square) – Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway used a teacher’s union report to criticize state funding of public schools, but the report contradicts data from the state’s department of education and an independent aggregator of government spending on schools.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway says Missouri ranks 49th in the nation in the percentage of school revenues coming from state tax dollars. The information was shared May 27 in a news release as her office distributed a 12-page report on education funding.

“My report details the facts that can spur change at the state level so we no longer rank at the bottom when it comes to supporting schools,” Galloway, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson in 2020, said in the statement.

Galloway’s source for the percentage of state funding and subsequent ranking is the National Education Association (NEA), a teacher’s union. However, two other government sources contradict the NEA’s report on the percentage of Missouri’s funding.

Missouri Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport and chairman of the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, was critical of the NEA and questioned anyone using the organization’s information.

Galloway’s report, “Elementary and Secondary Education Funding Trends,” cites the NEA’s annual “Rankings of the States 2019 and Estimates of School Statistics 2020,” published in July 2020. The NEA reported Missouri schools’ percentage of state funding was 32.1% of all receipted revenue in 2018-19.

But the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website shows the state contributed 43% of total funding for elementary and secondary schools in 2019. DESE doesn’t include in its revenue calculation funds from debt service, sale of new bond issues, sale of property, insurance proceeds, or tuition from other school districts.

“The audit report does not contain information to determine what figures were included in the State Auditor’s Office report (SAO),” Mallory McGowin, DESE’s chief communications officer, wrote in an email. “Because the funds listed above are local sources of revenue, if they were included in the SAO analysis they would lower the total percentage of state funds. You will need to get clarification from the SAO to verify what information was included in their analysis.”

Emails and phone calls seeking clarification or comment from Galloway’s office were not returned. Galloway, the only Democrat currently holding statewide office, announced on June 4 she would not run for re-election in 2022 or seek any other office.

Educationdata.org, a website providing data on the nation’s education systems, reported the state of Missouri provides 41.7% ($5,366) of the total amount money ($12,866 per student) annually sent to schools, placing Missouri  and Indiana at 32nd in the nation. That’s slightly less than DESE’s 43% but significantly more than the NEA’s 32.1%. Its sources include the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States Department of Education and other sources.

The 79-page NEA report ranks Missouri third-highest in the nation with 60% of total education revenue coming from local sources, such as property taxes. NEA reports Missouri is 26th in federal revenue at 7.9%.

Galloway received a campaign contribution of $2,650 from the Missouri NEA Political Action Committee. The “Nicole Galloway For Missouri” campaign currently has $135,873, according to an April 15 report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

“The data presented in this report provide facts about the extent to which local, state, and national governments commit resources to public education,” the NEA report states in the foreword of its report. “As one might expect in a nation as diverse as the United States – with respect to economics, geography, and politics – the level of commitment to education varies on a state-by-state basis. Thus, NEA Research offers this report to its state and local affiliates as well as to researchers, policy makers, and the public as a tool to examine public education programs and services.”

Emails and phone calls to the NEA weren’t answered.

Galloway’s report also stated the formula used to determine Missouri’s per-student funding is failing to keep up with inflation. She said residents will be paying higher property taxes to fund local school districts to compensate for the lack of state funding.

“The state is not stepping up to meet the needs of students in Missouri, shifting the burden and leaving Missourians paying higher property taxes to support their schools,” Galloway said. “The opportunity for a quality education is key to ensuring economic growth.”

Basye, the chairman of the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said the NEA is untrustworthy but acknowledged there have been challenges with this year’s education funding.

“I am not a fan of the NEA and I think they are a dishonest organization,” Basye said. “I haven’t read the auditor’s report, but we have provided record funding for K through 12 education every year, with the exception of this year.”

Basye, a member of the education committee for the past seven years, said challenges with the funding formula this year were problematic for some and might be the motivation behind Galloway’s report.

“But using (the NEA report) was her first mistake and she’s probably like a lot of other Democrats and a few Republicans that think the NEA is a good organization, but I disagree,” Basye said. “I think they’re pretty despicable and very dishonest. To date, the NEA lobbyist has not been in my office one time. If I was in their organization, I would want the guy run out of town because he’s supposed to be representing their interests and he’s not doing it. They should at least have the courtesy, whether we agree on anything or not, to visit the chair of the education committee. I find that very telling.”

Missouri has approximately 557 school districts serving 877,980 students in elementary and secondary schools. Many elected officials and education leaders believe disparities in a wide range of educational outcomes can be traced to inequitable funding caused by differences in local taxation.

“One of the issues that arises whenever you have strong reliance on property taxes to fund schools is it creates some significant disparities in per-pupil spending across our state,” said Brent Ghan, deputy executive director of the Missouri School Boards Association.

Missouri’s funding formula was created to address equity issues. The State Adequacy Target (SAT) is an amount of state funding paid per student. It’s based on average operating expenditures of the top 25 school districts with the highest Annual Performance Report scores – Missouri’s school accountability system for reviewing and accrediting districts. The SAT payment ranged from $6,117 per student in 2011 to $6,375 in 2020.

“The whole idea behind the foundation formula is to help address issues of equity in an attempt to even things out,” Ghan said. “However, no foundation formula does that perfectly.”

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