Missouri school boards renewing fight against classroom spending requirement

Legislative sources say 65 percent proposal could make reappearance next year.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- State lawmakers won't reconvene at the Capitol for another four months, but school boards across Missouri are already gearing up for a fight over how they spend tax dollars.

The Missouri School Boards Association has told members to begin lobbying their local legislators against the potential reintroduction of a proposal that would require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on classroom instruction.

Gov. Matt Blunt advocated for such a requirement in November 2005, saying it would force schools to make better use of their money.

The school boards fought against the plan before this year's legislative session, concerned that the definition of "classroom instruction" was too narrow and such a policy would take decision-making power away from local school officials.

"The philosophical argument is that school boards are locally elected to reflect the values of the community and to represent their constituents," said Karla DeSpain, president of the Columbia school board. "If the state wants to take over public education and mandate how everything is done, then that does away with that system."

No legislative agenda yet

Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said she hasn't heard of any plan to bring back the 65 percent requirement, although she acknowledged that the governor's office has yet to begin crafting its legislative agenda for 2007.

"But the governor still thinks it's reasonable to pledge to direct more money to Missouri classrooms," she said.

Brent Ghan, spokesman for the school board association, said legislative sources have told his organization that the 65 percent requirement is in play next year and that the governor could try to implement it through an executive order.

"They're not giving up on this idea," Ghan said of Blunt's staff.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry used an executive order to enforce such a requirement in his state, one of three that already have similar benchmarks.

Ghan said any budget requirement is likely part of a political agenda.

"They're setting schools up to look bad if they don't achieve this arbitrary percentage," he said. "With some people it might be an attempt to make school districts look as though they're not spending money properly."