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Feelings mixed about education initiatives at the end of the session

May 18, 2001
By: Jennifer Ginsberg
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - As legislators congratulated themselves on a "job well done," about 900 seniors in the Kansas City, Mo. school district are slated to graduate this June from high schools that are not accredited by the state. As the 2001 legislative session drew to a close on Friday, feelings were mixed about education initiatives that passed and failed this session.

Chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Dick Franklin, D-Independence, said if the proposition to fix the unaccredited schools had made it to the floor of the House and Senate, it would have passed overwhelming.

But, since votes were unattainable to take over the school district immediately, the next step will be to see if students have met state standards as determined by test results due out next fall. If the results have not improved significantly, the district will remain unaccredited and after a year be eligible for state takeover, Bentley explained.

Gov. Bob Holden said he hopes the state will work with all of these schools. But, if standards can not be met on a local level, the state will have to take over.

Franklin said the "lowest blow" to education this session was the Senate not taking up, fully debating or passing Holden's national teacher certification plan. Chairman of the Senate education committee Sen. Roseann Bentley, R-Springfield, also agreed. She sponsored the bill in the Senate. This plan was a high priority on the governor's education agenda.

"I think the Republican Senate just doesn't want to pass that priority for the governor. I think it is totally political. They said it was too expensive, but they let more expensive bills out today," Franklin said on Friday.

Holden stated the reason for the failure of the national certification plan in the Senate was due to the success he had with other educational agendas.

"It was tagged as one of my initiatives and they didn't want to give me anymore credit," Holden said in a post-adjournment press conference on Friday.

Although Holden's national teacher certification plan was not passed, he was able to appropriate $1 million in grant money for schools that wish to fund character education programs.

Franklin said the highlight for education this session was that both chambers were able to fully fund the school foundation formula, which Holden said was his top priority during his State of the State address in January.

"In a tight budget year, that's a real, real plus for schools," Franklin said.

This over $2 billion funding formula includes a $78 million increase that will distribute state money to the more than 540 school districts in Missouri. This is a way that will equalize the money behind each students' education, Franklin said.

This formula allots more money to poorer school districts that do not have the tax base to support their schools and less to schools in more wealthier districts that have a stronger tax base to draw from in an effort to equalize education funding. This was the sixth year in a row that the formula was fully funded.

Bentley also was pleased with an amendment to help students improve their reading skills. This amendment removes the mandatory retention of students if they are not reading up to at least one grade level below their own grade level by the third grade.

"This gives a little more leaway and flexibility to districts but it does require summer school and tutoring when a child is really having great difficulty," Bentley said of this state-funded plan.

Although this amendment is one of the few pieces of education legislation to be sent to the governor this session, Bentley said she learned a lot about other bills that did not make it to Holden's desk, such as national teacher certification and charter schools.

"I think the charter school movement gained some more credibility with the legislature as we understand more of what they are able to do at the charter school level, Bentley said.

Some education priorities proposed by Bentley and Franklin for the next session include: continuing to provide funding for schools, trying to pass the national teacher certification plan, getting a math grant to improve mathematics education, improving reading abilities of children in primary grades and straightening out the Kansas City school situation.