JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Senate has voted to guarantee St. Louis and Kansas City schools continue to some of the court-ordered school desegregation funds in an effort to entice a settlement in the cases.
The measure passed the Senate 25 to 8 late Wednesday night.
"This is about resolving desegregation and getting the federal government out of our local schools," said Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and sponsor of the bill.
The amount that would be provided to St. Louis City schools is only slightly more than half what the federal court settlement coordinator had told lawmakers was necessary to assure a settlement in the St. Louis case.
Over the last two decades, the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts have been under federal court control since the courts found unequal education between black and white students there. The court has ordered the state to pay more than $3.2 billion in desegregation payments.
While the Kansas City money was used to build new schools to attract white suburban students, the St. Louis desegregation funds were used to create magnet programs and voluntarily bus 13,000 city students to suburban schools.
Parties in the lawsuit in Kansas City have reached a settlement and payments there are scheduled to end next year. The case in St. Louis, however, is still pending.
Senators say they hope that the bill passed Wednesday will send a signal to the federal court that the state has taken adequate steps to make sure that when the majority of the money the state has been sending to St. Louis stops flowing there, the school district will have mechanisms and financing to provide for its students.
They say that the reworking the school funding formula achieves this goal.
Harold Caskey, D-Bates County, wrote the version of the bill that was finally passed. He said it includes a school funding formula solution that treats every school district the same in the state.
He said every school district, if it's willing to tax itself, can benefit from the bill.
An earlier version of the bill gave an extra $1,000 per student to the two metro areas. The money was to recognize the extra costs of educating poor, urban students.
But it was a major sticking point for some rural senators, who said their districts had poor students, too. Getting enough senator who don't represent the two metro areas, plus getting the governor's approval, has taken months.
In addition, it had been attacked by the governor as costing too much money.
The bill as it stands now also includes a provision that would allow charter schools to be set up in Kansas City and St. Louis, plus most of the St. Louis County school districts.
Sen. Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the amendment. He supports allowing charter schools to be established throughout the state, but said "it was politics" that made him limit the scope of his amendment so it would get more votes from senators wary of passing charter schools for the whole state.
Amendments like Flotron's won over several early opponents. But not Sen. John Russell, a Republican from Lebanon and a vociferous opponent of the bill throughout the debate. Russell said the bill ensures little accountability in the two metro districts and sends a disproportionate amount of education funds there.
"The bill still sends 91 percent of the money to 25 percent of the students," Russell said.
The bill faces one more, formal vote in the Senate before it can be sent to the House.