Plan Could Hurt Spending

1 decade 7 months 19 hours ago February 23, 2006 Feb 23, 2006 Thursday, February 23 2006 Thursday, February 23, 2006 4:44:41 PM CST in News

Ten-year-old Caleb Seip likes books.

"It just started developing, started liking them just because how much that you learn from them," Caleb said.

Books with suspense and complex situations make Seip come to his school's library for more. But Seip's librarian is worried a new bill might keep him from getting the books he needs to keep advancing his already 11th-grade reading level. So is his principal.

"I personally couldn't imagine if we just all of a sudden shut down our libraries and didn't count those as being vital to instruction, because they are," Bartley Elementary Principal Connie Epperson said.

But whether that could happen is unclear. This fall, Blunt proposed Our Students First, an initiative that puts 65 cents of every dollar spent in schools into instruction. Blunt says that would add $272 million to Missouri classrooms without a tax increase. Blunt is working from the federal government's definition of instruction. As of now, athletics, music, and teachers' salaries would be considered to be instruction costs, but libraries aren't part of that total.

"We are concerned as to, like I said, where that money is going to be taken away from," Library Media Specialist Mona Bartley said.

Rep. Scott Muschany said, "There's one thing in particular that's not in the definition that people would like to see, because it is critical to the students' education, that's library services and librarians."

Bartley agrees, saying a big cost is keeping books current.

"There are countries changing borders all the time and we need to keep up to date on those areas," she said.

According to Bartley, keeping up to date with state recommendations means spending 1% of the school's budget on library support for students, a number she says they are working toward, but are not quite there.

"This proposal and this initiative includes a tremendous amount of flexibility within how those percents are distributed," Gov. Blunt's Press Secretary Jessica Robinson said.

Muschany said, "Make no mistake about it, this bill, if passed by the voters in Missouri, would cause school districts to have to make some decisions."

Decisions Blunt wants his plan to guide schools into greater performance.

Muschany says there are about three to four drafts of the initiative with one or more including library services and librarians in the instruction definition.

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