OPINION

Commentary: A Backpack Full of Promise

Justin Brown

There is a fleeting moment in the life of every family that is full of hope and wonder, but also stirs feelings of worry and care. It is that instant when a child stands by the door, dressed in new clothes, and dons a school backpack for the very first time. Will my child be OK in this new strange environment? What will he or she learn? Who will they meet? What does the future hold? The moment passes as quickly as a camera shutter, but the feeling of pride and a parent’s protective care lasts a lifetime.

Our children carry so much more than pencils and notebooks in those backpacks. There is also hope and dreams for the future, and a promise of a happy and fulfilled life ahead. Teachers, working hand-in-hand with attentive and caring parents, play a critical role in shaping children into adults. Ideally, schools inspire and motivate children, and our children emerge from their K-12 experience ready to pursue their full potential through advanced education, careers and families. It’s a lot to think about as we watch our children board the school bus, but it’s there, unspoken.

As public officials, we in the Legislature share in the responsibility for educating Missouri’s children. Our job is to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide quality education for all. In Missouri, we do that through something called the Foundation Formula. The details of how the formula works are complex, but the goal is to make sure that no school district – whether a rural school serving a few dozen students, or a large urban school in an impoverished area – lacks adequate funding. The formula takes into account economic conditions in the area, including the local tax base, and supplements local resources when needed.

For 2022, the Legislature appropriated more than $3.5 billion for elementary and secondary education programs through the Foundation Formula. 

Nearly $139 million of that will go to school districts within the five counties I represent in the Missouri Senate. 

All told, the state of Missouri will spend almost $7.5 billion on local public schools next year. At roughly 21% of the operating budget, K-12 education is the second-largest category of state spending, only lagging behind social services. 

By comparison, colleges, universities and workforce development programs account for just 4% of the state budget.

It’s a cliché, but it really is true that children are our future. It makes sense to invest in them. If we want productive and engaged citizens who are ready to enter the workforce tomorrow, we must provide quality education today. 

As a parent, but also as an elected official, I understand how important the return to school is each year. I share your hope and excitement for the coming year and wish you and your children all the best. 

Let’s all be mindful of the children heading off to school and take care when encountering school busses on the roads. I’ll be praying for our teachers and I look forward to seeing all the children of Missouri experience a new year of promise and possibility.

It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.