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House appropriations amendment would cut funding for MAP tests

February 18, 2004
By: Alex Yalen
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -- A House education committee put in serious jeopardy the future of Missouri's MAP testing regimen Wednesday by adopting an amendment that would cut millions of dollars of funding earmarked for the program.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, and Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, introduced an amendment to a House education appropriations bill that would move all state funding for the MAP tests to Missouri's state aid distribution formula.

That would allow individual school districts the option of how -- or whether -- to finance the administration of the exams.

It's a move that both Graham and Harris said was nothing more than a "fiscal shuffle," shifting state money from one line to another. But critics called it an abandonment of a testing regimen that determines federal funding assistance for the state.

"The testing is still there," Graham said. "But the money comes from a different line item."

The amendment would add about $6 million to the roughly $2 billion formula, which is designed to equalize distribution of education aid throughout the state.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would still develop MAP-style assessments, said Deputy Commissioner Bert Schulte. But local districts would have the option to take them or not.

"There would be some confusion regarding what would, and what wouldn't, be required," Schulte said.

Because the state formula would not specify how the money should be spent, local school districts would weigh their individual options. It would be a choice of significant consequence, because the scores generated from MAP testing help determine Missouri's compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

If school districts decided not to take the exams, Missouri as a state could fall out of compliance with the federal regulation. That regulation plays an essential role in determining how much federal education money Missouri is eligible to recieve.

Opponents of the measure, specifically citing cash-strapped districts, said that allowing choice of how to spend precious money would lead to districts ignoring the test altogether.

"What we've done is put (the testing funds) into the Foundation Formula, when in some cases there is no local incentive to fund (the exams)," said Rep. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg. "There aren't going to be any schools that do it."

Another area that raised some serious concerns among legislators was the very constitutionality of the amendment itself. Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said that the amendment violated the state's Hancock Amendment, which requires that the state provide funding for all mandated programs.

Harris and Graham both denied that their amendment to the MAP test funding scheme -- which is a major part of Missouri's efforts to meet No Child Left Behind requirments -- is part of any legislative rebellion against the federal legislation.

Instead, the Columbia representatives said, their move was designed to attack Missouri's public school funding problems, and they hoped their appropriation amendment would help state schools better handle the statewide financial crunch.

"In serious financial crises, we've got to look for ways to take care of children in the classroom, not the MAP," Harris said. "Moving funds from MAP testing to the foundation formula is a way to do that."

Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, was unavailable for comment.

While the amendment passed, the full bill has yet to be voted on by the committee. The House Education Appropriation Committee will reconvene Monday at noon.