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Missouri House Members Up the Ante On Bill Raising Spending on Education

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Members of the Missouri House are pushing ahead with an education-finance measure that would increase state spending on the public schools by $380 million next year.

The measure approved last week by the House Budget Committee would go well beyond a similar school-finance plan already approved by the Senate.

The House plan, sponsored by Speaker of the House Bob F. Griffin, also includes an additional $297.5 million for the state's colleges and universities and $25 million for training programs, for a total of $702.5 million in new spending.

Missouri currently spends $1.9 billion a year on education.

The Senate measure, sponsored by President Pro Tem James L. Matthewson, would put more emphasis on higher education. Although the Senate bill, like the House measure, would provide an additional $297 million for higher education, it would increase K-12 spending by only $184.5 million.

Mr. Matthewson earlier in the year had backed away from plans to include a broad range of school reforms in his education proposal. (See Education Week, Feb. 27, 1991.)

The House committee also approved a tax plan that would raise $700 million in additional revenues to fund the finance plan. The pack4age includes $580 million in increased individual-income taxes, with the balance coming from corporate levies.

The Senate version would raise revenue by hiking a host of taxes.

Under state law, however, a tax increase would have to be approved by the voters in a referendum next fall.

Legislators also must now devise a compromise measure to send to the desk of Gov. John Ashcroft, who already has said that increased spending for education must be accompanied by structural reforms.

"The two of them go hand in hand," said Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the Governor.

In his State of the State Address in January, Mr. Ashcroft laid out a series of changes he felt were necessary to improve Missouri's schools. They included a statewide system of school report cards, graduation and promotion based on demonstrated competency, freedom for teachers to restructure learning in the classroom, a limited school-choice proposal, alternative certification for teachers, and more "time on task'' for students.

Mr. Ashcroft also argued that the quality of education could not be judged by the level of state spending.

Mr. Ferguson said the legislature is considering some measures that include provisions that would satisfy the Governor.

But, he added, "We're not sure if they're in there just as window dressing."

The emphasis on increased state spending for education comes at a time when Missouri is experiencing economic hardship. In addition to budget strains created by the downturn in the national economy, the state also is facing difficult decisions in education spending.

Missouri has had to spend heavily in recent years to meet court-mandated desegregation goals. In addition, it also is facing a legal challenge to the equity of its current school-finance system.

And recently, the state education department began to seek legislative relief to help fend off potential bankruptcies in financially troubled school districts. (See Education Week, Jan. 30, 1991.)

Teachers, meanwhile, staged a march on the state Capitol last month to demand "adequate funding" for education.

The protest may have helped to prod the House into approving its spending measure, said Bruce Moe, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association.

The promise of increased funding for education has, however, triggered protests from state employees, who argue that they also deserve a raise.

Mr. Moe said the msta is also mustering support for a constitutional amendment that would guarantee that one-third of the state's general revenue would be spent on elementary and secondary education.

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