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One of the great outrages in recent Missouri history has unfolded in the recent settlement of the St. Louis desegregation case. First, some background. Last year the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 781, a highly unusual piece of legislation designed to assist in settling this long-running case and close out the state's obligation to atone for having operated segregated St. Louis schools. Critical to gaining the votes of reluctant rural and outstate lawmakers for Senate Bill 781 was a set of reforms for the urban district written into it. Supporters and opponents alike agreed the bill, which U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh called a "remarkable" piece of legislation, simply wouldn't have passed without them.

The bill called for establishment of a transitional school board to whip St. Louis schools into shape, establishment of innovative charter schools and a host of other reforms. Almost without exception, the long list of reforms has been ditched, while the state money is flowing to the existing school board as planned under the bill.

"The carrot was all the additional money. The stick was all the reforms," said state Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles. "They ate the carrot and threw away the stick." Ehlmann offered an amendment to this year's appropriations bill sending money to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that would have cut $13 million for administrative salaries until the state department oversaw creation of the transitional district board to implement the reforms. Ehlmann's amendment lost by a vote of 17-16.

Ehlmann and other lawmakers who reluctantly voted for SB 781 feel betrayed, and it isn't hard to see why. Attorney General Jay Nixon is the state's agent in agreeing to the settlement, and once again he seems to have fallen down when it comes to enforcing key provisions of state law. If everything written onto state law can be given away at the bargaining table, what is the point of electing a General Assembly?

It is to hoped that the State Board of Education will step up to the challenge and begin enforcing the reform provisions of SB 781, which is still the law of this state. In the meantime, the whole cynical episode is disquieting to citizens of good will who want to do right by the children whose education is supposed to be the charge of the St. Louis School Board.