JEFFERSON CITY - Witnesses for and against a bill designed to bring an end to court-ordered desegregation payments to St. Louis and Kansas City schools told lawmakers that they need to focus attention on children in other school districts, too.
Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony in a second day of hearings on the desegregation bill, which includes exclusive payments of $1,000 additional funding per pupil for students in the state's two biggest districts. Supporters of the funding say it costs more to educate students in poor, urban districts.
But representatives from "suburban urban districts," seven districts that border St. Louis that get no desegregation money, told committee members their districts also have a high concentration of poor students.
The districts had a different demographic makeup when the St. Louis desegregation court case began almost two decades ago, and consequently they weren't included when the court ordered the state to pay money to St. Louis to equalize education.
Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, said he wants accountability on the administrative costs of the two districts before he approves any bill that would include the $1,000 payments.
He asked the superintendent of one of the "urban suburban schools," Lynn Beckwith Jr. of University City, what he thought of the $1,000 payments.
"For those of us who aren't getting anything right now, that seems like the end of the rainbow," Beckwith said.
Westfall asked whether it was fair to spend more on poor students in one part of the state than is spent on students in another part of the state.
"Do you think we don't have poverty in rural districts?" he asked committee members and witnesses.
Missouri has spent more than $3 billion over the last two decades in desegregation payments to the two districts, in order to rectify unequal education. The lawsuit in Kansas City has been settled, and payments there will stop in June 1999. The case in St. Louis, however, is still pending.
Payments to the St. Louis school district for desegregation costs now run about $100 million a year; the $1,000 per student would mean $30 million to St. Louis.
Last week the court-appointed mediator for the St. Louis case, William Danforth, told the committee without assurances of the $1,000 payments, the case might not be settled and the state would continue to have to pay. Once the case is settled, however, the school board rather than the court will run the school district.