News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Teachers' Pensions May Get Boost

Missouri legislators may pass a plan to sweeten teacher retirement benefits despite the state's discovery that the company responsible for assessing state retirement expenses made a $1.1 billion miscalculation.

The New York-based Segal Co., an actuary firm, reported last October that the Public School Retirement System of Missouri had a $1.3 billion surplus. Based on that projection, state legislators were poised last month to pass a bill that would have increased retirement benefits so that, for example, teachers retiring with 30 years' experience could receive annual pensions worth 75 percent of their final average salaries. Currently, such pensions are valued at 69 percent of a teacher's salary.

Successful passage of the legislation became questionable after Segal officials found an error that wiped out all but $200 million of the projected surplus. But by changing the way it figures long-term costs, the board of trustees for the retirement system reported last week that the system could cover the key benefits increases if legislators approve the benefits proposal as they are expected to do.

Class-Reduction Grants Announced

Seventeen Michigan districts will share $19.8 million in state aid as part of a pilot project to lower classroom sizes in K-3 grades, Gov. John Engler has announced.

Approved last year by the legislature, the project targeted 180 school districts where 50 percent or more of the students qualify for free lunches.

The districts finally picked for the program must lower classroom sizes to no more than 17 students per teacher. "This initiative will give teachers the opportunity to provide more individualized instruction when kids need it most," the Republican governor said in a written statement.

State education officials faced an April 1 deadline for announcing the awards, which will cover the first-year costs of the four-year project.

The grants range from $3.6 million for the 28,000-student Grand Rapids school system to $140,000 for the 5,300-student Wyoming schools.

"This substantial financial commitment really opens wide the door to innovation on the part of Michigan schools," said state schools Superintendent Arthur E. Ellis.

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