Each year, tens of thousands of Missouri students receive less money for their public school education than state law requires. These shortfalls accentuate differences between schools that operate in areas with high local property tax revenues and schools in areas with lower local tax efforts.
This is precisely the gap that the Missouri Foundation Formula, which was passed into law in 2005, was designed to bridge. The formula establishes a concrete spending target — the amount of money that should be spent (at minimum) in order to adequately educate each K-12 student in the state, and it helps local districts make up the difference between local tax revenues and the per-pupil state adequacy target.
Learn more about the Missouri Foundation Formula
It’s sometimes hard to wrap our heads around the systemic underfunding of Missouri’s schools. Most Missourians can’t image what $500 million looks like, much less how a $500 million shortfall would affect an individual teacher’s classroom or the staffing of an individual principal’s school.
That’s why Missouri Parent wants to highlight specific schools, districts, and counties that are underfunded by the state. Today, we’ll talk specifically about the seven school districts in Stoddard County, Missouri.
Underfunding in Stoddard County, Missouri
Stoddard County is almost as far south as you can get in the state before you cross the border into Northeastern Arkansas. Generally speaking, it is in between Cape Girardeau and the Bootheel. It’s a small county: less than 30,000 people live there. The median household income is $37,303 per year—almost exactly $10,000 below the state average. (source)
Stoddard County’s school districts are small. Bell City R-II is the small district in the county with just 214 students K-12 and Dexter R-XI is the largest with 2,119 students. The remaining districts; Advance (405 students), Bernie R-XIII (522), Bloomfield R-XIV (700), Puxico R-VII (701), and Richland R-IV (573) have less 3,000 students altogether.
When you add every K-12 student in Stoddard County, there are just over 5,200 kids. For comparison, St. Charles R-VI—a single St. Louis metro area school district—has just over 5,000 students. And that’s not even close to Missouri’s largest single district; 34 districts have more students in them than St. Charles does.
Finding Information About Underfunding in Rural Schools
Small town newspapers like the ones in Stoddard County don’t have the reach that their big city counterparts do, and metro-area media sources aren’t likely to interview rural Missouri educators whose towns fall outside of the paper’s core readership.
Stoddard County only has one daily newspaper. It’s name is The Daily Statesman, and while it’s stories are available online, it’s not even in the top ten Missouri newspapers (source). The paper has less than 10 staff members listed on its website, but it does its best to cover education news in the county.
According to The Daily Statesman, the Missouri Foundation Formula underfunds all seven of Stoddard County’s school districts. While there are only a few published interviews online discussing the effects of this underfunding on students and schools, what the existing interviews say is worth hearing.
The superintendent of Bloomfield, Toni Hill, told The Daily Statesman that her district is funded at 93 percent of the Foundation Formula, and that the district can’t afford further cuts:
"We are always very conservative when budgeting revenue," said Hill. "The district does not have enough reserve in our account balances to make up for any shortfall." (Source - March 2014)
Underfunding of the Foundation Formula is threatening the ability of rural districts like Bloomfield, to keep its doors open. This is bad for communities and for kids; schools are a critical component of a town’s economic architecture, and in rural areas, kids without a local school might have to be bussed 30 miles or more to the closest accredited districts.
The Richland Schools superintendent, Frank Killian, offered an even more pointed quote to the paper than Hill did. Killian told The Daily Statesman that,
"Schools have made cuts in the past several years to get down to skeleton crews, but unlike our legislators, our educators will get the job done even when facing lack of funding, which is quite evident by the great scores Stoddard County Schools are producing," (Source - April 2014)
Missouri’s educators are undoubtedly working hard to help their students be as successful as possible. What Killian said is reinforced by national polls, which indicate that the majority of Americans believe that even when the education system isn’t perfect, their local educators, administrators, and school boards are doing a good job.
Rural schools like those in Stoddard County sometimes go unnoticed in statewide media coverage of educational funding and policy issues. One of our goals at Missouri Parent is to keep Missouri’s parents informed about funding and policy issues that affect public school students in the state.
Students in Missouri’s rural communities should receive adequate access to public school education, just as their metropolitan peers do. Missouri Parent will keep you informed about funding of the Missouri Foundation Formula and other state-level concerns that affect your rural schools. Bookmark the blog or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates.