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Post-Deseg Bill Appears in Trouble

April 16, 1997
By: Ann S. Kim
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate's failure to vote on a bill that would continue the flow of desegregation funds to school districts may send a message that the legislature will not provide the urban districts with extra support, the bill's sponsor warned Wednesday.

After two days of debate, rural and suburban legislators have stalled progress on the bill that would maintain higher levels of funding for St. Louis and Kansas City school districts.

Bill sponsor, Harold Caskey, D-Butler, expressed concern that these districts could face catastrophe if, after the courts stop ordering desegregation payments, the state does not agree to continue some level of extra funding to the urban districts.

"We do see the train wreck in sight," Caskey said.

With only four weeks left in the legislative session, each delay in a bill's progress threatens its possible passage.

"We may never get to a final vote," Caskey said. "Each day you wait, more amendments show up."

Because of racial and financial imbalances found in school districts of St. Louis and Kansas City, a federal court order had mandated that these districts receive more money per student in the form of desegregation funds. This court intervention was to be a finite measure.

With the courts' involvement coming to an end, school districts in St. Louis and Kansas City were faced with the possibility of suddenly losing a great deal of their funding. The federal court in Kansas City approved a plan to phase out state involvement.

But the fate of St. Louis school districts remains unclear. A court-appointed panel is now negotiating a plan behind closed doors.

"If within those closed door negotiations, they are looking to the legislature for a safety net so that they can resolve the issue of desegregation," Caskey said, the Senate's inability to resolve the issue "may give them some concern. I think that in those negotiations, it is extremely important that they have the ability to see that they can deliver a quality education to their children."

Caskey's bill would change the formula for calculating the money that school districts would receive. St. Louis and Kansas City school districts would still receive the bulk of funds under his method.

Some rural and suburban legislators say Caskey's bill is unfair because it would provide more money per student for urban children than for children in their districts.