Every school day at St. John the Baptist grade school near Bevo Mill in south St. Louis 100 students in remedial education took five-block bus rides to a storefront classroom. They went in shifts of 10 to 20 students each, seven round trips a day.
A driver and small school bus were assigned full-time to St. John's. The agency that runs the remedial program estimated the cost in transportation and rent to have been about $28,000 annually, just for the students of St. John's. Statewide, about $1 million of the agency's $5 million annual budget goes for rent, transportation and the leasing of recreational vehicles that are modified into rolling classrooms.
All of that was to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court, which 12 years ago said that remedial-education teachers who are paid by a federal program could not conduct their classes inside private schools affiliated with religious denominations. Congress had created the remedial program, known as Title I, in 1965. On Monday, the court reversed itself, saying the teachers can go back. Kathy Anger, principal at St. John's, was thrilled. "We have wasted a lot of time on kids fussing with their coats and getting on and off the buses," Anger said. "Now we will be able to spend more of that time on instruction. This is a great service to the kids." George Henry, superintendent of schools for the St. Louis Archdiocese, said the decision would allow educators to spend more money directly on teaching. Because public-school students get most of the benefit of Title I, he said, all students gain by the savings. "What we created was a very expensive artificial means, spending millions in vans and other costs, to get the students on supposedly neutral sites," Henry said. In the city of St. Louis, about 1,900 students who attend Catholic, Lutheran and other religious grade schools receive Title I instruction in reading and arithmetic away from their schools. Some walk or ride to classrooms in other buildings. Some go to recreational vehicles parked nearby. Blue Hills Homes Corp., a Kansas City-based agency, runs the program for 3,500 students statewide, including those in St. Louis, through a federal contract. It covers students who live within 58 other Missouri school districts, including 12 others in the St. Louis area. Blue Hills doesn't offer instruction to all eligible parochial school children in Missouri. Other statewide statistics were unavailable Monday. A spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Belleville said none of its schools have specific off-site programs, such as the one for St. …