Three important developments on the education scene - two in Missouri and the other Kansas - may offer a some holiday cheer for public-school officials.

First, Gov. Bob Holden has released $83 million of the $222 million that he had withheld from public schools and colleges. Republican legislators had been demanding that he release up to $65 million and had launched a petition campaign asking that Missourians request that action from the Democratic governor.

School and college officials across Missouri may breathe a little easier at the prospect of receiving their portion of the $83 million from the state. It might mean the difference between keeping or letting go teachers and retaining or dropping programs.

Also this week, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments that the state's foundation formula under which education funds are dispensed is seriously flawed. In 1993, lawmakers rewrote the plan, resulting in a disparity in financing that critics claim will require revision or a complete overhaul. The expected funding equalization never occurred, and patrons and school officials contend that the gap between the richest and poorest school districts continues. Finding the magical formula to achieve that balance would fall first into the lap of the General Assembly and then, if legislators fail, to the courts.

On the other side of the border, Kansas legislators have been told to revamp that state's school-finance formula or risk the court taking on the task. The judge who issued the order called the existing system "irrational" as well as unconstitutional.

The biggest headache for Kansas lawmakers will be the July 1, 2004, deadline set by Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock for devising a new school-funding plan. If they fail, Bullock would come up with his own formula.

"This case involves the fundamental law of our land and this court has no discretion whatsoever in whether it will be enforced and preserved," Bullock wrote. "There is no such thing as 'a little bit pregnant' and there is no such thing as 'slightly unconstitutional.'"

Once the new funding plans are written for the two states, school districts currently getting a bigger portion - whether because they raise more money locally or do a better job improving student attendance - could wind up losing. Districts classed as the "have-nots" could see more money. The plans may be more fair, but there will be considerable pain attached for some districts.

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