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Governor, Lawmakers Differ on Missouri Reforms

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Missouri's Gov. John Ashcroft says he supports school reform as an important element in improving the state's quality of life but is concerned that the immediate cost of the measures proposed by the legislature could put the state on a dangerous financial course.

Mr. Ashcroft told his Cabinet last month that the legislature's plans, which include increases well above his proposed $50-million boost to the state's foundation formula and his long-term reform package, would "impinge upon the state's ability to provide for other programs" besides education, according to Tom L. Duncan, the Governor's assistant for education and policy management.

Compounding the state's fiscal difficulties, the aide said, are cuts in federal grants, expenses growing out of two major desegregation cases, and the likelihood that lawmakers will back a tax-revenue cap this year.

Difference in Emphasis

According to observers, the Governor and legislature largely agree on the concept of school reform, but the Governor believes more money should be spent directly on the proposed reforms, with an improvement and accountability process tied to it.

Members of the legislature and the state board of education are arguing that before money is spent on reform, the state must first bolster the school foundation program, which suffered four lean years under former Gov. Christopher Bond and is likely to face more tight management under Mr. Ashcroft.

Said Representative Annette N. Morgan, chairman of the House education committee: "The bottom line for the legislature has been to maintain the integrity of the foundation program and to add reform funds on top of that, phasing in programs over several years."

In contrast to the Governor's proposed $50-million increase in the foundation formula, the Senate and House have called for hikes totaling $90 million and $120 million, respectively.

In addition, the legislature proposes to spend only about $2 million to $3 million on new projects next year. The Governor has called for $35 million in new money to launch school-reform initiatives over the next few years.

Although its first-year costs are low, the reform bill passed last3month by the House, when fully implemented in 1989, would provide $111 million annually for instructional improvements and career-ladder payments, while a Senate bill would provide an additional $61-million each year for school reforms.

A compromise bill calls for $72 million by 1989.

Lottery Funds

Observers say that the differences between the Governor and legislature involve not only where funds for school improvements should be placed but also how those reform funds can be raised.

Last month, the legislature rejected the Governor's plan to earmark all new state-lottery money for education.

"Members of the legislature believe that the lottery is going to bring in substantial amounts of money--between $60 million and $100 million--and that the state can use some of the funds to pay for increases in education," Mr. Duncan said. The Governor, he added, believes that the lottery proceeds will be lower and that all lottery funds should go to education.

Limited Veto Power

The Governor has been warning the legislature to be more fiscally conservative, but he apparently lacks the means to force the legislature to hold the finance formula to the level he supports. According to Mr. Duncan, Missouri law does not permit the Governor to veto increases in the school-foundation formula.

"It's not a separate line item," said Representative Morgan. "If he vetoed the funds, there would be no money for schools and the legislature would have to meet in special session."

Compromise Reform Bill

The differences between two separate reform bills passed last month by the House and Senate--HB 463 and SB 290--have been largely reconciled in a substitute House bill that was rejected by the House last month, according to Anne C. Walker, research analyst for the legislature's education committees.

She said a slightly different version of the bill, expected to reach the House floor this week, faces an extremely close vote.

Disagreement over the bill focuses on a section on how to implement property-tax rollbacks necessitated by recent tax reassessment, she said.

Under the terms of the compromise bill, the state would launch a career-ladder program that requires districts to match state funds on a sliding scale that takes into consideration a district's wealth, Ms. Walker said.

Teachers at the top of the career ladder could receive annual increases of as much as $5,000.

The bill calls for statewide testing programs organized through local school districts, written discipline codes to protect teachers from liability for disciplinary actions taken in accordance with district policy, training programs for administrators, and increases in minimum salaries from $15,000 in fiscal 1987 to $18,000 by fiscal 1991.

In addition, the bill calls for the testing of students entering and graduating from teacher-education programs; a statewide program to assist new teachers in the first two years of service; tuition reimbursements for school personnel if they receive an A or B in an inservice course; and a $13-million incentive package to support school improvements at the building level.

The bill would also establish one-time $2,000 scholarships funded by the state and private sector for high-school students who plan a career in teaching and establish a forgivable-loan program providing $1,000 per year to prospective teachers who teach in the state in critical geographic or subject areas, Ms. Walker said.

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