Parson orders $209M more in budget cuts amid outbreak
Once again, public schools, colleges and universities that receive large amounts of the state's discretionary money took the biggest blows.
K-12 schools lost $123 million in benchmark state aid, a 3.5 percent cut, and $7.2 million in transportation aid, a 6.7 percent cut that comes atop a similar drop in April.
Four-year colleges saw their losses grow to $95 million since April 1, a 12.5 percent cut from what the original Fiscal Year 2020 budget promised, and community colleges saw a slightly deeper dive.
Other cuts included $10 million intended for Department of Corrections programs and $7 million for state IT services.
In a news conference Monday afternoon, Parson cast the latest withholds as an absolute necessity to balance the budget with hundreds of thousands of people out of work and revenues cratering.
"We are experiencing an unprecedented downturn, which means we are having to make unprecedented adjustments to our budget,” he said.
Parson also emphasized his support for education as a legislator and governor and pointed out that K-12 schools are also set to receive $187 million in federal aid to help cover expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak.
That means they could use the money to pay for Wi-Fi hotspots sent to students to help move instruction online or food distributed after classrooms closed to students.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, disputed Parson's support for education, pointing out he also supported tax cuts she said made it difficult to build up the state's reserves for tough times.
"The governor's devastating cuts to public education are as much a product of failed Republican tax policy as they are of the coronavirus pandemic," she said.
It wasn't immediately clear how the cuts would fall on every individual school.
But Springfield Public Schools appeared to be relatively unscathed Monday.
Superintendent John Jungmann said in an emailed statement that his district would cover $4 million in cuts with federal aid, reserves and savings on utilities and supplies when schools were closed.
“By engaging in this three-pronged approach, we do not anticipate a need to reduce our critically important teachers and support staff through layoffs or furlough,” Jungmann said.
Ozarks Technical Community College appeared to be in a similarly good place.
Chancellor Hal Higdon said in an interview Monday afternoon that increased summer enrollment would cover the latest cut.
Missouri State President Clif Smart was not immediately available for comment Monday.
He said in a previous interview that any cuts in the last month of the current fiscal year would likely have to come out of reserves, though.
Monday's cuts likely won't be the last, however.
Late last month, Parson told education leaders that unless Congress approves more aid for states, he expects to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the next fiscal year budget on or around July 1, when it takes effect.
Smart and Jungmann told the News-Leader they would do everything they could to avoid layoffs when those cuts come, but Smart said steep enough cuts would force his hand.
“We agreed we were going to hold those to the very last option,” Smart said, “but when 70 percent of your budget is personnel, it's hard to avoid if shortfalls are large enough.”
The University of Missouri system is already there.
As of May 27, it had laid off 83 employees and furloughed 1,683, according to an online tracker.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said last month that more withholds would likely mean more of the same.
“Right now, we are certainly looking at every option and taking several actions,” he said, “and if we had further financial issues we would continue to do those things.”
University of Missouri System President Mun Choi offered no further specifics in an emailed statement Monday afternoon.
“We understand that the state of Missouri continues to experience a very challenging financial situation and that our elected officials are doing everything they can during this time,” he said. "Working together, we have taken significant actions for the past few months that will mitigate the impact of this latest announcement."