JEFFERSON CITY - An issue that blends two of the hottest items for state politicians - crime and education - is emerging as one of the top issues for the 1996 legislative session.
Both the governor and several legislators are proposing what has been described as a safe-schools act that would crack down on violent students.
This fall, legislators on an interim committee heard testimony about how to make schools safer. The committee focused on alternative education and preventing violence before it happens, while Carnahan's proposal concentrates more on "getting tough" on in-school crime.
The governor's plan would impose tougher penalties for assaults by students. It also would provide state funds to local districts to make their schools safer and it would initiate a state program for anti-gang class sessions in school.
One Republican senator has his own ideas about how to make schools safer. Sen. Steve Ehlmann of St. Charles is submitting a safe schools bill for the third straight year. He said his proposal is similar to Carnahan's except for two large differences. Ehlmann's bill would not classify assaults on students by other students as a felony, nor would it provide new funding for alternative education.
Ehlmann said he wants safer schools without costing the state more money.
"I don't want to create a new Alternative Schools Bureaucracy," Ehlmann said. "Schools can offer alternatives, but if it means spending more money, I won't support it."
Other education topics will reach the House and Senate this session. Steve Stoll, D-Festus, Education Committee vice chairman, is submitting a bill this session to provide a new scholarship for high school students who take advanced placement classes. The $500 to $1000 scholarships would go to Missouri students who take two or more advanced-placement classes, pass the final tests and go to college at a Missouri public or private college or university.
While not all Missouri high schools offer official advanced-placement classes and some offer only one or two, Stoll said this scholarship might spur those schools to start more such classes.
"This bill should give schools the impetus to say, 'Our kids could get these scholarships if we offered more AP classes,'" Stoll said.
Another bill Stoll will file concerns state funding for local school districts. The 1993 school-funding law reduced the percentage of funds provided to wealthier districts in order to better fund some poorer districts.
Stoll's bill would let wealthier school districts keep some utility and railroad taxes the current law will divert to state coffers.
He said the purpose of this bill is to protect people in those districts from higher taxes that might result from the loss of those funds.
"Some schools would lose a million dollars without this bill," Stoll said. "Those districts would have to raise local taxes to cover the loss."
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