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Missouri Senator Drops K-12 Reforms From Spending Bill

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The president pro tem of the Missouri Senate has dropped, at least for now, plans to include an overhaul of state elementary and secondary programs as part of a major new education bill.

The measure, currently before the Senate, still calls for some $330 million in new spending for education, mostly for higher education but with $40 million in incentives to schools that adopt "innovative" programs.

Legal and political disputes over school-finance equity and the length of the school year, however, led President Pro Tem James L. Mathewson this month to cut almost $160 million for precollegiate programs from the measure.

Spokesmen for Senator Matthewson and other backers of the measure said that many of the provisions that have been dropped would have been politically untenable in their original form, but modified versions probably will resurface lat4er in the legislative session.

As originally drafted, the bill proposed to overhaul the state's educational system at every level, from pre-kindergarten to graduate school.

Included in the bill was an additional $110 million in state funding aimed at rectifying inequities in precollegiate spending, which many educators blame on an antiquated state foundation formula.

The formula itself is the target of two school-finance challenges, which a state judge recently consolidated into a single suit.

Despite the increased funding, however, the bill would not have ad8dressed the basic weaknesses of the foundation formula, argued Ray Snyder, an aide to Senator Matthewson.

"We did not have a solution to the problems of the formula," said Mr. Snyder. "And linking those [equity funding and formula revision] together is a real problem legislatively."

As a result, Mr. Matthewson decided to drop the equity provisions and work to devise changes in the formula that could be introduced later.

The additional revenue to fund the measure would come from a comprehensive revenue bill raising sales taxes, capping individual-income-tax deductions, and increasing cigarette tariffs.

Longer School Year

The original bill also contained $25 million to help districts pay for the addition of an unspecified number of days to the the school year.

The issue is a prominent one in Missouri, with Gov. John Ashcroft pointing out that students attend class only 174 days a year--one of the shortest school years in the nation.

Defenders of the current calendar argue, however, that while students spend fewer days in class, they spend more hours each day in school than do students in many states.

Moreover, critics of incentives to lengthen the school year warned that affluent districts, which could afford to plan and implement the changes, would be more likely to benefit from the increased funding than would poor ones.

Although that provision was eliminated and the bill as a whole sharply scaled back, educators last week praised the "economic survival act of 1991" for keeping precollegiate education on the legislative agenda.

"We have attempted to be generally supportive of the spirit of the [bill], and I want to underscore the word spirit," said Joel Denny, the state's deputy commissioner of education.

But, he added, funding in the measure "is simply not enough to meet the financial [needs] of public-school districts in the state."

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