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Mo. Governor Ditches Plan To Offer Education Package

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Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri has shelved a campaign promise to introduce a package of education-reform measures in order to allow lawmakers to concentrate on meeting a judicially imposed deadline for revising the state's school-finance formula.

Mr. Carnahan, a Democrat, promised during his campaign last fall to make school reform the keystone of his first legislative agenda.

But his plans were derailed after Circuit Judge Byron L. Kinder in January declared the state's foundation formula unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to revise it. (See Education Week, Jan. 27, 1993.)

Although he said he will continue to support reform provisions in existing bills, the Governor argued that a comprehensive effort to overhaul the state's system of elementary and secondary education would only distract attention from the drive to meet Judge Kinder's deadline.

Governor Carnahan made his announcement this month during a press conference held on the eve of the deadline for filing new legislation.

A special legislative committee established earlier in the session to address the finance problem has estimated that fully funding a revised formula could cost the state as much as $687 million annually in additional state and local spending.

"The financial impact of the Kinder decision will be tremendous, and it has left Missouri with a foundation-formula crisis,'' Mr. Carnahan said. "This is a problem that must be addressed immediately.''

Focus of Campaign

Mr. Carnahan's heavy emphasis during the campaign on his plan for creating "world-class schools'' helped earn him the important electoral support of the state's teachers' unions.

But lawmakers and educators argued that the Governor is wise to focus on solving the state's most pressing problem.

"The state is under pressure to fix its finance formula and focusing on reforms at this point would distract from the issue at hand,'' said Bruce Moe, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Others noted that revising the finance formula was to have been an important element of the Governor's school-reform program.

"I'm not reading the Governor's decision as backing off from his agenda,'' said Deputy Commissioner of Education Joel D. Denney. "I simply see the announcement as [Mr. Carnahan] keeping faith with his pledge.''

Finance Reform Debated

Lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to work to meet Judge Kinder's deadline to revise the foundation formula within 90 days of the end of the regular legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn in May.

A school-finance measure, sponsored by Sen. Harold L. Caskey, the chairman of the Senate education committee and a member of the special finance panel, is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

The measure, which would require the state to increase education spending by $502.4 million and local districts to raise an additional $184.7 million, would guarantee a statewide minimum level of $3,450 in per-pupil spending. That compares with expenditures that currently range from $2,653 to $9,750.

It also would require districts to levy a minimum property tax of $3 per $100 of assessed valuation to receive any new funds under the revised formula.

Currently, 362 of the state's 538 school districts levy less than that amount.

Current law requires districts to levy a minimum of $1.25 per $100 to receive state aid, and a minimum levy of $2 per $100 is needed to receive an increase.

Both the M.S.T.A. and the Missouri National Education Association opposed the legislation at a committee hearing on the basis of a section--dubbed the "new visions act''--that would set minimum competencies for students and establish a "recommended'' curriculum.

The M.S.T.A. argued that efforts to insure that students meet the minimum competencies would convert the recommended curriculum into a de facto statewide mandate, thereby weakening local control of schools.

Another result feared by the unions is that teachers would ultimately be held responsible if the standards are not met.

"Essentially, what we're seeing here is the legislature adding reforms to a [court-mandated] piece of legislation,'' Mr. Moe of the teachers' association said.

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