Future of MAP at stake in House debate on state education needs

Friday, February 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Members of the Columbia School Board said Thursday that they want any additional state money to be spent on teachers. And their commitment to that philosophy may well be tested in the future.

Under a House education funding bill, the Columbia board — as well as hundreds of other school boards across the state — may have to face one of the most unpleasant choices a school board can face: whether to pay for a federally mandated test or satisfy the needs of their district.

Amendment would give districts more financial choice

An amendment to the bill, proposed by Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, and Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would give local school districts sweeping powers over spending money formerly reserved for the annual Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP. The test is used to measure student progress, and its results determine federal aid under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Graham and Harris said that their measure puts control of school finances back where it belongs: with local school boards.

“Districts make choices every day,” Graham said Wednesday. “That choice is already out there. Local districts will get more control over resources, and they can use it for testing.”

Moving MAP money could prove risky

The problem, critics of the measure said at a House hearing Wednesday night, is that by moving the roughly $5.1 million test-only funds into a more discretionary pot, districts would effectively be given the power to finance the test or not — an option that could be financially dangerous.

Should local school boards choose not to finance the test, there would be broad legal ramifications under the federal No Child act.

Columbia School Board member Kerry Crist, who was present at the Wednesday night hearing, said she had concerns that, for Columbia, there would be no choice about how to spend the newly freed money. The risks of losing federal funding would be too high, she said, to not re-invest the money in the MAP.

“They said you could spend on teachers or the test, and that made me nervous,” Crist said. “It’s not an option. We would have to take that money and use it for the MAP.”

Crist said she hadn’t been expecting to see such an offer in the first place.

“I was kind of surprised by that action, because I think the federal government would come down pretty hard on states that don’t buy into (the No Child Left Behind) program.”

Gail Willis, political action coordinator for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said that while such a plan to shift funding away from statewide testing is not unprecedented, it is legally questionable. There are extensive accreditation requirements that rest upon MAP results, she said.

“A few years ago, the General Assembly tried to remove funding, yet many local districts chose to pay for those other tests anyway,” Willis said. “They decided in their local districts to go ahead and give those tests still — so I’m not sure that this (amendment) kills the MAP test.”

Graham and Harris defend position

Last week, state legislators in Utah voted to end their state’s reliance on the No Child Left Behind Act. Both Graham and Harris denied Wednesday that their move was a similar rebellion.

However, the representatives suggested they were more concerned about school funding equality than standardized testing.

“We’re in a serious financial crisis, and we’ve got to look at ways to take care of children in the classroom, not the MAP,” Harris said.

Though the amendment was approved, no vote has been taken on the bill. The House Education Appropriation Committee will reconvene Monday at noon.

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