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Funding for Public Education in Rural Schools[Part_2]

In this segment of Making a Difference Where You Live, Michele Skalicky talks with rural school administrators as well as a teacher about how they make their budgets stretch.

JERRY BRASCHLER HAS BEEN TEACHING SOCIAL STUDIES AT CRANE HIGH SCHOOL FOR 13 YEARS. HE STARTED TEACHING 4 ½ YEARS BEFORE THAT. HE SEES FIRSTHAND THE DIFFICULTIES IN MAKING SCHOOL BUDGETS STRETCH. HE BRINGS ITEMS FROM HOME TO USE IN HIS CLASSROOM. ACCORDING TO BRASCHLER, THOSE AT CRANE SCHOOLS HAVE LEARNED TO BE FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE.

IF FUNDING WEREN'T AN ISSUE, BRASCHLER WOULD LIKE TO SEE 2 OR 3 COMPUTERS IN EACH CLASSROOM AS WELL AS A LAPTOP FOR EACH TEACHER.

IN MONETT, MISSOURI, WHERE 51% OF THE SCHOOL'S FUNDING COMES FROM THE STATE, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT CHARLES CUDNEY SAYS THEY SERVE AS A TRAINING GROUND FOR TEACHERS. HE SAYS THEY'RE NOT ABLE TO COMPETE IN THE MARKETPLACE FOR NEW TEACHERS AND TO RETAIN EXPERIENCED TEACHERS. AND MANY RURAL SOUTHWEST MISSOURI SCHOOLS, INCLUDING MONETT, HE SAYS, ARE FACING INCREASING COMPETITION FROM NORTHWEST ARKANSAS.

THE SALARY DIFFERENCE, ACCORDING TO CUDNEY, CAN BE ATTRIBUTED, IN PART, TO HIGHER PROPERTY VALUES IN GROWING NORTHWEST ARKANSAS.

CUDNEY SAYS KANSAS CITY AND ST. LOUIS ALSO OFFER HIGHER STARTING SALARIES THAN MOST SCHOOLS IN SOUTHWEST MISSOURI.

CUDNEY WISHES THEY COULD BE CONFIDENT THAT THEY'RE PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE FUTURE. HE SAYS THEY'RE DOING A GREAT JOB MEETING STUDENTS' BASIC NEEDS WITH THE MONEY THEY HAVE, BUT HE WISHES FUNDING WOULD ALLOW THEM TO OFFER MORE.

IN CRANE, MISSOURI, THE TOP FUNDING ISSUES THE SCHOOL DISTRICT FACES HAVE TO DO WITH THE DISTRICT'S FACILITIES AND ITS STAFF.

TYLER LANEY IS SUPERINTENDENT OF CRANE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. HE SAYS THEY'D LIKE TO BE ABLE TO OFFER MORE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS, BUT FUNDING DOESN'T ALLOW IT.

LANEY WOULD LIKE TO OFFER THINGS LIKE LONG-DISTANCE LEARNING AND AP COURSES. 49 STUDENTS RECENTLY GRADUATED FROM CRANE HIGH SCHOOL. LANEY WORRIES ABOUT THEIR ABILITY TO GO ON TO HIGHER EDUCATION.

LANEY IS GRATEFUL FOR THE SOUTHWEST AREA CAREER CENTER AT MONETT WHICH ALLOWS CRANE STUDENTS TO RECEIVE VOCATIONAL TRAINING.

FUNDING CONCERNS HAVE LED MONETT, CRANE AND 234 OTHER MISSOURI SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO FILE A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE STATE OF MISSOURI. LANEY BELIEVES THE MISSOURI CONSTITUTION REQUIRES MORE FUNDING THAN WHAT THE STATE IS CURRENTLY PROVIDING.

CURRENTLY THE GAP BETWEEN THE WEALTHIEST SCHOOL DISTRICT IN THE STATE AND THE POOREST DISTRICT IN THE STATE IS ABOUT $10,000 PER CHILD. GORIN IN NORTHERN MISSOURI SPENDS $15,251 PER STUDENT WHILE DIAMOND IN SOUTHWEST MISSOURI SPENDS $4700 PER STUDENT.

LEGISLATION PASSED LAST MAY REWORKED THE STATE'S FUNDING FORMULA AND IS EXPECTED TO HELP CLOSE THE FUNDING GAP. BRIAN BAKER, A STATE REPRESENTATIVE FROM BELTON, SAYS THE NEW SCHOOL FUNDING FORMULA IS BASED ON STUDENT ACCOUNTABILITY AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT.

BAKER SAYS ECONOMISTS PREDICT THE NEW FUNDING FORMULA WILL CLOSE THE GAP BETWEEN THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS, EVEN THOUGH IT MAY TAKE TIME.

THE COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATIONAL EQUALITY, WHICH REPRESENTS THE 236 SCHOOL DISTRICT WHO ARE SUING THE STATE, REVISED AND REFILED ITS LAWSUIT AFTER THE NEW FUNDING FORMULA WAS PASSED LAST YEAR.

BAKER FEELS SCHOOLS SHOULDN'T BE SUING THE STATE.

BAKER OFFERED SOME SOLUTIONS THIS PAST LEGISLATIVE SESSION FOR ATTRACTING AND RETAINING QUALIFIED TEACHERS IN RURAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS. HE SUBMITTED LEGISLATION THAT WOULD HAVE CREATED THE MISSOURI URBAN/RURAL FLIGHT SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM.

THE LEGISLATION THAT WOULD HAVE CREATED THE MISSOURI URBAN/RURAL FLIGHT SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM FAILED. BUT SENATE BILL 912 THAT REQUIRES THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO ESTABLISH A VIRTUAL PUBLIC SCHOOL BY JULY 1ST, 2007 PASSED.

ANY STUDENT IN KINDERGARTEN THRU 12TH GRADE MAY ENROLL REGARDLESS OF THE PHYSICAL LOCATION WITHIN THE STATE IN WHICH THE STUDENT RESIDES.

JIM PUCKETT IS DIRECTOR OF THE MISSOURI VIRTUAL SCHOOL AT MISSOURI STATE UNIVERSITY, WHICH SERVES AROUND 40 SCHOOLS ACROSS THE STATE AND BETWEEN 475-525 STUDENTS.

PUCKETT SAYS THE MISSOURI VIRTUAL SCHOOL ALLOWS LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO OFFER CERTAIN COURSES THAT THEY WOULDN'T OTHERWISE BE ABLE TO OFFER.

ACCORDING TO PUCKETT, THE ADVANTAGE OF VIRTUAL SCHOOLS IS THAT THEY GIVE LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND THEIR STUDENTS ACCESS TO A LOT OF EDUATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES THAT WOULD NOT NORMALLY BE AVAILABLE BECAUSE OF A DISTRICT'S LIMITED RESOURCES.

STEPHEN KLEINSMITH IS TREASURER FOR THE COMMITTEE OF EDUCATIONAL EQUALITY AND SUPERINTENDENT OF THE NIXA SCHOOL DISTRICT, WHICH IS TAKING PART IN THE LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST THE STATE OF MISSOURI.

HE SAYS THERE'S NO EASY SOLUTION TO FUNDING PUBLIC EDUCATION.

HE SAYS NIXA SPENDS ABOUT $2000 LESS PER STUDENT THAN THE STATE AVERAGE, BUT HE'S PROUD OF WHAT HE CALLS THE DISTRICT'S FISCALLY-RESPONSIBLE DECISION-MAKING THAT ALLOWS STUDENTS TO RECEIVE A QUALITY EDUCATION DESPITE FUNDING ISSUES.

NIXA SCHOOLS' DIRECTOR OF FINANCE BRENDA RANTZ SAYS THERE ARE NO COOKIE CUTTER SCHOOL DISTRICTS—EACH ONE IS DIFFERENT WITH ITS OWN UNIQUE NEEDS. THAT'S WHY NIXA EMPHASIZES STRATEGIC PLANNING, SO EVERYONE CAN HAVE INPUT ON WHAT'S OFFERED IN THE SCHOOLS.

NIXA'S SCHOOL BOARD AND SUPERINTENDENT MEET REGULARLY WITH THE NIXA MAYOR AND ALDERMEN AND ALSO WITH CHRISTIAN COUNTY LEADERS, AND RANTZ AND STEPEHN KLEINSMITH SAY THAT HELPS EACH ENTITY STRETCH ITS BUDGET.

CRANE TEACHER JERRY BRASCHLER SAYS DESPITE HIS DISTRICT'S FUNDING WOES, HE'S PROUD OF WHAT THEY'RE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THERE.

SUPPORT FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE WHERE YOU LIVE COMES FROM THE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF THE OZARKS. FOR KSMU, I'M MICHELE SKALICKY.