Mar 16, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

HOUSE APPROVES STATEWIDE CHARTER SCHOOL EXPANSION

The House of Representatives on March 16 sent legislation to the Senate that would allow for the statewide expansion of charter schools. The measure, House Bill 634, passed 83-76-1, getting just one more vote than the 82 required to advance.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of most state education regulations. A charter school’s operating revenue comes from funding redirected from the local public school district in which it is located. Since first being authorized in the late 1990s, charters have only been allowed in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Proponents say charter schools provide students an alternative to low-performing public schools. Opponents note that to date most Missouri charter schools have performed worse than schools in the in the district in which they are located.

HB 634 would allow an unlimited number of charter schools to operate in any Missouri school district in which has at least one low-performing school, even if the district itself is high-performing. Based on current school performance ratings, the bill would allow charters to be established in dozens of districts across the state, if it becomes law.

 

PLAN HITS REDUCED AMOUNT FOR FULL SCHOOL FUNDING

A year after the Republican-controlled legislature rewrote state law to slash more than $400 million from the amount of new money required to fully fund local public schools, House Republicans on March 15 unveiled a state budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year that would provide an $48 million in additional money for K-12 schools – the new amount needed to claim full-funding under the law.

In 2005, Republican lawmakers enacted a new education funding distribution formula but never came close to fully funding it. So, last year they revised the formula to drastically reduce the amount need for full funding. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the rewrite, saying it would drastically shortchange public schools, but GOP lawmakers overrode the veto.

The House budget plan restores $36 million in state funding for local school districts’ transportation costs that new Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, had proposed eliminating when he present his proposed FY 2018 state budget to the legislature in February. The House will complete its work on the budget when the legislature returns from its annual spring recess on March 27.

 

COURT DODGES RULING THAT COULD HAVE UPENDED LAWS

The Missouri Supreme Court on March 14 dodged on a ruling that could have rendered unconstitutional scores of state laws that apply only to St. Louis County. In a unanimous decision, the court said the underlying issue in the case – whether state law allowed a water company to impose a special surcharge on St. Louis County customers – had been rendered moot by subsequent actions taken by the Missouri Public Service Commission.

The law in question says that water companies may impose a special surcharge in counties “with more than one million inhabitants.” At the time the law was enacted in 2003, St. Louis County was the only one in Missouri to fit that requirement. In the 2010 U.S. Census, however, the county’s population dipped to 998,954 inhabitants, putting it outside the range covered by the law.

Although another state law had long been read as providing a “once in, always in” protection to any jurisdiction that experiences population changes that otherwise would affect their legal status, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District ruled last year that the law only applies to St. Louis city. If the Supreme Court had upheld the lower court decision, it would have meant that laws applying solely to St. Louis County based on the 1-million resident requirement would become inoperative.

In sidestepping the issue, the Supreme Court advised to legislature to consider statutory changes that would achieve its intended result. Such a bill has already cleared the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.

 

HOUSE REPUBLICANS ADVANCE TAX HIKE ON ELDERLY POOR

The House of Representatives on March 16 voted 85-72 in favor of legislation that would impose a tax increase on many low-income elderly and disabled Missourians who rent their homes. The bill would eliminate the “circuit breaker” tax credit for renters, which provides poor recipients an average break of $535 a year.

The Republican backers of the measure, House Committee Bill 3, say the budgetary savings from eliminating the circuit breaker for renters is necessary to avoid cutting in-home and nursing home care for some disabled Missourians, as Republican Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying that with the state annually forgoing as much as $700 million a year in lost revenue from tax credits, most of which benefit corporations and wealthy developers, a relatively modest tax break for the elderly and disabled isn’t the first place lawmakers should target for savings.