The plan is tailor-made for conservative, private-enterprise-oriented President Reagan: Don't force schoolchildren to ride buses for desegration -- pay them.
St. Louis, like many big cities of the United States, has schools that are majority black and suburbs which are nearly all white. For almost 10 years the city has been battling charges of racial segregation.
Now the city's school board and the US Department of Justice have come up with a plan that is unlike anything tried elsewhere. White students in suburban districts who agreed to attend predominantly black schools in St. Louis, and black city students who agreed to attend white suburban schools would receive a half-year of tuition-free education at any Missouri college for each year completed in the integration program.
A student who participated in the program for eight years conceivably could get a tuition-free, four-year college education.
The plan, involving the city and three surrounding counties, must still approval from a federal district judge. It is clearly in line with the Reagan administration's opposition to "forced" busing.
Most costs of the plan, including the free college tuition, would be borne by the state --which is not a cosponsor and in fact has submitted a different proposal.
Expected to cost $6 million the first year, the plan also provides financial incentives for suburban and urban school districts, some transportation for students, and the establishment of specialized "magnet schools."
William Taylor, director of the Center for National Policy Review and a lawyer for the NAACP in the St. Louis case, took no position on the plan. The question is whether this is a "reasonable settlement" to avoid a lengthy trial, he said. "I think voluntary approaches are highly desirable if they're satisfactory and you can avoid litigation."
But he added, "I am somewhat troubled by the notion of fina ncial incentive to kids to participate in desegregation plans."