K-12 public schools in Missouri enroll more than 900,000 students, with 39% in poverty, 2% learning English, 24% minorities, and annual expenditures of just over $8.5 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
The Missouri Supreme Court held in 2009 that the state constitution requires the state to spend at least 25% of its revenues on public schools and the constitution’s language on the “diffusion of knowledge and intelligence…[for] the preservation of…rights and liberties” does not require additional funding.
In 2009, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a decision in Committee for Educational Equality v. State rejecting the plaintiffs' adequacy and equal protection claims. Under a constitutional clause unique to Missouri, the court ruled that the constitution only requires the state to devote at least 25% of state revenues to public schools, and that plaintiffs had not claimed the state was falling short of this mandate.
In 1993, a state trial court in Missouri found the state’s school funding system unconstitutional because it failed to provide children living in low-income school districts educational opportunities on par with those available in affluent districts. In response, the General Assembly passed legislation increasing school funding and improving funding equity.
In 2004, plaintiffs in Committee for Educational Equality v. State filed a new petition claiming that the school funding system had again become inequitable and under-funded, and therefore denied students their right to adequate educational resources and equal opportunity. In September 2009, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs' claims.
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The education clause of Missouri’s constitution states that “[a] general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of  years as prescribed by law.” Mo. Const. art. 9, § 1(a).
The constitution also provides that “[i]n event the public school fund provided and set apart by law for the support of free public schools, shall be insufficient to sustain free schools at least eight months in every year in each school district of the state, the general assembly may provide for such deficiency; but in no case shall there be set apart less than twenty-five percent of the state revenue, exclusive of interest and sinking fund, to be applied annually to the support of the free public schools.” Mo. Const. art. 9, § 3(b).
In Committee for Educational Equality v. State, the Missouri Supreme Court wrote that,
“the introductory clause in section 1(a) concerning the “diffusion of knowledge” outlines the purpose and subject of Missouri's public education system. But, it provides no specific directive or standard for how the State must accomplish a “diffusion of knowledge.” Plaintiffs are attempting to read a separate funding requirement into section 1(a) that would require the legislature to provide “adequate” education funding in excess of the 25-percent requirement contained in section 3(b). Such language does not exist.”
294 S.W.3d 477, 488 (2009)
The court held that, in contrast to the portion of the education article requiring the State to provide free public schools that charge no admission or course fees, the introductory clause is “purely aspirational in nature.” Id. at 489.
The court found that:
“Reading a free-standing obligation to provide certain school funding into the introductory language of section 1(a) would be contrary to the specific flexibility afforded the legislature in article IX, section 3(b)… Section 3(b) does not limit the legislature's power in section 1(a) to establish and maintain free public schools…Rather, section 3(b) provides the legislature a flexible framework for funding Missouri's public schools. It indicates the minimum level of funding that the legislature “shall” set aside-at least 25 percent of the state revenue. But it also outlines that the legislature “may” provide additional funding to account for deficiencies. It is the language of section 3(b), not the aspirational introductory language of section 1(a), that provides the constitutional parameters for funding Missouri's public schools.” Id.
Finally, the court concluded that if the legislature provides the 25 percent required by section 3(b), “it has not failed in its duty…to provide free public education,” and the “judiciary cannot invade” the legislature’s province to fund schools beyond” the 25 percent requirement. “
The aspiration for a “general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence” concerns policy decisions, and these political choices are left to the discretion of the other branches of government,” the court wrote. Id.
The court also considered whether education is a fundamental right under the Missouri constitution, and held that “[b]ecause Missouri's education article contains neither a free-standing “adequacy” requirement nor an equalizing mandate,” education is not a fundamental right in the state. Id. at 490.
Plaintiffs in Committee for Educational Equality v. State had argued that early childhood development and pre-K programs are necessary, particularly for children with special needs, to afford children with the educational opportunities that are required under Missouri’s Constitution, statutes, regulations and educational standards. The Missouri Supreme Court, however, held that the Missouri constitution does not require the state to provide a certain standard of education.
Education Justice at Education Law Center submitted an amicus brief in Committee for Educational Equality v. State which discussed the meaning of the state’s education article and the role of the courts in enforcing the state’s duty under that article.
Education Law Center prepared an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens for Missouri’s Children and Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral Network arguing that Pre-K programs for low income children are a necessary component of a constitutionally adequate system of education.
The Missouri Preschool Project (MPP) is implemented through a competitive grant program to public schools, Head Start programs, nonprofit agencies, and private child care providers.
The program is rated a 9 out of 10 on the established quality indicators but serves only 4% of 4-year-olds and 2% of 3-year-olds.
The Early Childhood Development, Education and Care Fund, which supports the MPP through state gaming revenues, was “created to give parents meaningful choices and assistance in choosing the child-care and education arrangements that are appropriate for their family.”
Public school districts, Head Start agencies, nonprofit agencies, and licensed preschool and childcare providers are eligible to apply for MPP grants. Schools or agencies with religious affiliations are ineligible for MPP funding.
All 3- and 4-year-olds are eligible for the program. However, priority funding is given to programs serving low-income and special needs children.
Programs provided under the MPP through private childcare providers and Head Start programs must provide 6 ½ hours of educational instruction a day, 5 days a week. Public school MPP providers must offer at least 3 hours of instruction a day, 5 days a week.
Funding for the pre-K program is provided from gaming revenues and general appropriations through the creation of an Early Childhood Development Education and Care Fund.
These monies are then allocated to the Department of Social Services and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). 80% of the monies in the Fund, as well as additional funds appropriated by the legislature, are allocated to the DESE to provide grants through the MPP.
Additional funding for the MPP comes from parental fees (which programs must charge on a sliding scale basis to families whose income exceeds 185% of the federal poverty level), as well as local sources.
The state also funds a small program targeted at 3- and 4-year-olds from at-risk families. At-risk children and families are defined as those exhibiting characteristics associated with a likelihood the child may drop out of school. This program for at-risk families is funded through state aid to school districts. Programs receiving this funding can only receive state aid for half-day programs.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), MPP served only 4% of 4 year-olds and 2% of 3-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2008-2009.
MPP reached 9 out of the 10 benchmarks.
The 9 benchmarks reached were:
- Early Learning Standards
- Teacher must have Bachelor’s degree
- Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
- Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
- Teacher in-service (at least 15 hours/year)
- Class size limits of 20 students
- Class ratio of 1:10 or better
- Monitoring/Site visit program
- Screening/referral and support services
The 1 benchmark not met was:
- Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
The MPP provides for a formal program evaluation and auditing. A study of the MPP and all early childhood education initiatives was mandated as part of the establishment of the Early Childhood Development, Education and Care Fund.
This program was evaluated for both process quality and program impact/child outcomes in 2000 and 2001.