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Rural Opposition Remains

February 10, 1998
By: Margaret Murphy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A special appeal to the Missouri Senate by the St. Louis school desegregation settlement coordinator failed to budge rural opposition to pumping more money into St. Louis city schools.

"It's the same old thing meeting at the same pitch," said Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, after the meeting with William Danforth and his brother, former Sen. Jack Danforth.

Russell and his colleague Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, have been critics of the desegregation bill, which also provides money for the Kansas City school district. The lawmakers have also criticized what they said are excessive administrative costs in the two school districts.

"There are no assurances this will settle the St. Louis case," Russell said. "I'm not sure we do anyone a service by approving money for St. Louis and Kansas City. We'll get more of the same -- inefficiency, wasted money and a poor-quality education."

Jack Danforth urged the lawmakers to pass the legislation and promised his personal support for a settlement if the legislation were passed.

"We can't go from a court-created cocoon to a firestorm where nothing is available to replace what the courts created," he said. "If the legislature passes a bill, there would be statutory framework for all parties to know what to expect if the courts get out of running the schools."

He and his brother responded to frustrations about the bill voiced by rural legislators, who questioned a provision that would guarantee students in St. Louis public schools, and Kansas City, receive special funding of $1,000 per pupil.

William Danforth said that $1,000 was the absolute minimum necessary from the state to assure a settlement. Proponents of the funds argue it costs more to educate poor urban children.

Rural legislators argue that the provision ignores rural districts, which also have poor children.

Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico said that it is the question of whether there is fairness in these differences that entangles the desegregation legislation.

"My district spends about $4,200 per pupil and St. Louis spends $8,000," said Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico.

Missouri has spent about $3 billion in desegregation payments over the last two decades, ordered after the courts found unequal education in the two districts.

The lawsuit concerning the Kansas City school district has been settled, but negotiations among the 20 parties involved in the St. Louis lawsuit are ongoing. Supporters of the desegregation bill say if the legislature can prove to the court that it will provide funding adequate to ensure the St. Louis district won't collapse when court-mandated state payments end, the court will allow a settlement in the case.

Jack Danforth said about 20 percent of St. Louis school district's budget comes from desegregation money. The funds are spent on magnet schools and a bussing program that sends 13,000 inner-city students voluntarily to county schools.

The Senate Education Committee will continue its hearings on the bill this week.

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