Holden signs bills for public schools, balanced budget

Thursday, June 20, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Traveling to schools statewide, Gov. Bob Holden is promoting a new school accountability law signed alongside a measure to help balance the budget and fund public schools.

Holden kicked off a two-day tour Wednesday at Willard Junior High School near Springfield by signing what he called "a landmark education reform bill."

The new law frees schools with high-achieving students from some state rules but subjects poor performing schools to more requirements.

So-called "priority schools" will have to submit improvement plans to the state and adopt individualized plans for students who don't test well.

Some teachers and administrators in such schools also could have to undergo more training.

School board and teacher associations said many of the new requirements simply formalize the ways that poor performing schools already are striving to improve.

'Right direction'

"How much impact will it have? That is yet to be seen," said Greg Yung, a fifth-grade teacher from St. Louis County who is president of the Missouri National Education Association. "But it is a step in the right direction, it is focusing on improving the skills of the teachers and giving them support."

It was unclear whether the law will be fully effective for the 2002-2003 school year, because parts require the adoption of administrative rules, which can take several months, said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The school law also allows schools to run family literacy programs and revises the formula that determines the base funding for elementary and secondary schools. The formula depends on such things as local property tax rates, assessed valuations and student enrollment.

By averaging the assessed valuation per pupil over two years -- instead of looking at one year only -- the new law should eliminate the needed funding spikes that have occurred as property values are reassessed every other year.

Smaller increase

What the change means politically is that schools can receive a smaller funding increase than originally proposed this coming year and still be considered "fully funded."

However, the budget passed by lawmakers failed to meet even the revised definition of full school funding, which was estimated to require a $175 million increase to this year's $2 billion base.

Lawmakers guaranteed $110 million in the budget that goes into effect July 1.

They then passed another bill that provides schools an extra $25 million while also generating revenues to help balance the budget.

Holden also signed that bill Wednesday.

He praised the revenue bill as an innovative approach to help boost funding for Missouri schools while some neighboring states were cutting school funding.

"I believe our commitment to education will catapult our schools ahead of other states in the quality of learning that is taking place in our classrooms," Holden said in prepared remarks.

The legislation raises money for general state spending by taking it away from some special accounts.

It also bars businesses from claiming an accelerated state income tax write-off during a one-year period.

Because the state tax code is linked to the federal one, the tax break had automatically taken effect with the enactment of a federal economic stimulus plan earlier this year.

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