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Senate Education Committee Defeats Desegregation Bill

February 12, 1998
By: Margaret Murphy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The sponsor of a desegregation bill designed to end two decades of federal court control over St. Louis public schools said the invisibility of the governor on the issue helped contribute to the bill's defeat in committee Thursday.

"The more people that endorse this, the better off we are," said Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles. "Initiatives require leadership. We need leadership from his office."

House is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which voted Thursday against passing the desegregation bill, 5-6.

The governor's spokesman, Chris Sifford, said the governor's office has been discussing the bill with senators and both former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth and his brother William, the court-appointed settlement coordinator for the St. Louis desegregation lawsuit.

"I think the governor has been clear where he stands," Sifford said. "He said in the State of the State he has concerns about costs involved in the bill."

Sifford said those costs include the provision of the bill that would have given $1,000 in per pupil funding to both the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. The funding was included to recognize what proponents say are the higher costs associated with educating students from poor districts.

William Danforth told lawmakers that the money would be necessary in order to reach a settlement in the St. Louis lawsuit.

Sifford said of the bill and the provision, "It's very expensive and would be difficult to pass."

Although Carnahan made mention of the issue in his State of the State address earlier this year, the governor has not publicly endorsed any particular proposal.

The $1,000 has also been a sticking point for some rural legislators, who say their districts have poor students, too.

Efforts by senators to amend the bill to expand funding for other districts with high concentrations of poor students failed.

One such amendment would have given extra funds to seven of the "urban suburban" districts that ring St. Louis. These districts had different demographics when the desegregation lawsuit was filed and consequently, they receive no state desegregation funds. Members opposed to the amendment said they were concerned with its costs.

In the end, the amendment's sponsor was one of the two Democrats who didn't vote for the bill. Instead, Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, voted present. His vote, plus the absence of Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, cost Democrats on the committee a majority.

Other controversial provisions included language that would have allowed local school boards to allow charter schools to be established in the district.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, tried but failed to strip the charter school language from the bill.

"I think if we're going to do charter schools, there's another bill on it," Jacob said. "Instead of adding baggage, let's move on."

But a proponent of charter schools, Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said eliminating charter school provisions would instead cost the bill votes and kill any chance of passage on the Senate floor.

House said that he would try and find a way to either vote again on the same bill, or find another vehicle to pass the bill's provisions.

Missouri has spent more than $3 billion over the last two decades on desegregation payments to the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts. The lawsuit in Kansas City has been settled and payments to the district will end in 1999. The lawsuit in St. Louis has not been settled. The court ordered the payments after it found unequal education services in the two districts.