The public schools enroll 918,000 students: 73% White, 16% African American, and 5% Latino, with 49% living in poverty and 3% learning English. The State spends $9,702 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“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 twenty-one years as prescribed by law.” Mo. Const. art. 9, § 1(a).
“All appropriations by the state for the support of free public schools and the income from the public school fund shall be paid at least annually and distributed according to law.” Mo. Const. art. 9, § 3(a).
“In 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 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 claimed the school funding system had again become inequitable and under-funded, and therefore denied students their right to adequate educational resources and opportunity.
In 2009, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs' claims, holding 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.” Also, 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.