Agreement Provides Boost to St. Louis Students

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The St. Louis public school district announced on Nov. 21 that it will be able to spend $96 million from a long-running desegregation case, which will allow the district to eliminate its debt and fund many programs—most notably early childhood education—that have been underfunded for years.

The agreement, which dates back to a landmark 1972 desegregation case and a subsequent 1999 settlement, allows the district broader use of the $180 million it received at that time to ensure that facilities in St. Louis were equal to those in other Missouri districts. The funds had been limited to buying land and building new schools, but an agreement that a federal district judge approved earlier in November will allow the district to use that money for other purposes.

Among the uses: expand early childhood education, including adding new early childhood classrooms and before- and after-care at sites around the district; training for current and future principals; investments in technology, including state-of-the art computer labs; and transportation to magnet schools. The agreement also continues funding for the "St. Louis Plan," a teacher peer mentoring and review panel administered jointly by the school district and AFT St. Louis.

AFT St. Louis has long advocated for expanding early childhood programs in the district, including working with the plaintiffs' attorney in the desegregation case to make it a priority. The agreement also will give a boost to a new union effort (funded in part by a 2011 AFT Innovation Fund grant) that focuses on developing a high-quality, districtwide professional development program for teachers and paraprofessionals working in early childhood programs.

The desegregation agreement comes just days after AFT St. Louis reached a contract agreement with the district that provides modest raises for the first time in years and avoids furlough days.

"This has been a good month for us," says local president Mary Armstrong, who is also an AFT vice president. "The future of public education in St. Louis looks much brighter as we move forward toward full accreditation" of the school district. [Dan Gursky, Byron Clements, St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

November 28, 2011