How to use the potential money generated by gambling at Rockaway Beach clouds issue of education funding

Sunday, August 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:51 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

For some Amendment 1 opponents, the main issue isn't gambling, it's what they say is poor educational policy.

State revenues from the estimated $39.9 to $49 million generated by the amendment would be directed toward teacher salaries and capital improvements in Missouri's "priority schools."

The trouble with that, opponents say, is there is no functional list of priority schools.

According to Missouri law, the state department of elementary and secondary education will identify priority schools based on poor attendance records, provisional accreditation, or below-standard student performance. However, the law also says the list of priority schools won't go into effect in years when school funding falls below a certain level.

Jim Morris, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said legislation calling for a new definition of priority schools takes effect Aug. 28, and creates an in-between time for the definition of priority schools.

The State Board of Education stopped short of taking a stance on Amendment 1 on Thursday, though members released a statement voicing their concerns about its potential effect on statewide educational policy.

The board approved a statement presented by Peter Herschend, a member of the board since 1991 and a leading Amendment 1 opponent. According to the board's release, Herschend presented the statement "as a private citizen," and left the room before the board debated and approved it.

The statement argued "there is not a clear understanding of where this money would be used" because the definition of "priority schools" is about to change. It also said the amendment would set a detrimental precedent by earmarking revenue from a specific town for a specific purpose in a relatively unchangeable way, since the constitution is difficult to amend. The statement raised concerns that the amendment would inhibit or compromise the state's use of funds for education.

On Wednesday, Herschend said the amendment's plan for distributing funds would be damaging to educators' morale.

"The amendment essentially rewards struggling schools," Herschend said. "That's bad educational policy."

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