Blunt backs target instead of mandate for spending in classroom

Thursday, February 2, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt has softened his call that school districts be required to spend a certain percentage of their money on student instruction, saying Wednesday that he could support the threshold as a mere goal.

Blunt encountered heavy criticism from school officials and reluctance from some legislators after proposing in November that school districts be required to spend at least 65 percent of their operating budgets on student instruction.

The governor backed off the requirement when asked about it Wednesday.

"I obviously think a requirement is better than a target. I think a target, though, is better than nothing," Blunt said.

The governor added: "The idea of a target, if it really will drive dollars to the classroom, is something I will support."

His comments came a day after the House and Senate sponsors of his plan each filed legislation that would direct school districts to adopt a goal of spending at least two-thirds of their operating budgets on classroom instruction.

Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said school districts should retain control over spending decisions -- a key assertion made by school officials who had objected to Blunt's original plan.

The bills by Mayer and Rep. Scott Muschany, R-St. Louis, would require each school district's spending percentage on classroom instruction to be published as part an annual accountability report. Any district that meets the mark would be publicly honored as a "Governor's 'Students First' District."

Blunt said the proposed target still would allow taxpayers and voters to know how their districts are spending money and to demand explanations if their districts aren't meeting the state goal.

"I think a target would help drive schools towards this ultimate objective -- getting more dollars into the classroom," he said.

Both bills would refer the spending targets to the November 2006 ballot for voters to decide. Blunt's original proposal also called for a statewide vote.

Even as a target, the two-thirds spending threshold on student instruction still is an arbitrary figure that doesn't necessarily relate to students' academic performance, said Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri National Education Association.

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