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California's School-Funding Debate Intensifies

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Sacramento--With state budget deadlines approaching, negotiations have accelerated in the California capitol on two major bills that propose educational reforms as a trade-off for more than $1 billion in additional school funds.

And although the state has one of the largest current and projected budget deficits in the nation--and a new governor who opposes tax increases--observers suggest that the political climate is more favorable than at any time in recent years toward education and the array of concepts for improvement contained in the omnibus measures. For that reason, they say, some version of the reforms, including allocations well above those proposed by Gov. George Deukmejian, is likely to receive legislative approval.

The stage for the complex budget talks, involving leaders of the Democratic-dominated legislature and the Republican Governor was set this month when the state Assembly approved a finance-reform bill containing various tax increases to give schools $840 million more than the Governor proposed in his budget.

But Republican members of the lower house who joined in the 69-9 vote made clear that they wanted more reforms and fewer taxes than were proposed in the bill by State Assemblywoman Teresa Hughes, and saw it specifically as a vehicle for further negotiations in a two-house conference committee.

Earlier, the Senate, with Republican backing, had passed a similar omnibus education bill, introduced by State Senator Gary K. Hart and endorsed by Bill Honig, California's superintendent of public instruction.

Both measures would lengthen the school day and year, set minimum statewide high-school graduation requirements, and increase by stages the annual salary of beginning teachers to $18,000.

In the Assembly, Democrats have a 48-32 margin. The line-up in the Senate is 25 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and one independent.

However, with a two-thirds vote required for passage of the state budget and major spending bills, Republican legislators are in a position to enforce significant concessions. Their position is strengthened this year by the presence of a Republican in the Governor's office.

But Governor Deukmejian, opposed to tax increases of the magnitude proposed in the bills by Mr. Hart and Ms. Hughes, needs Democratic support to adopt a 1983-84 state budget before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

By the Governor's estimate, the $26-billion budget will have a deficit of $265 million.

In mid-May, Governor Deukmejian moved to prevent the triggering of a conditional one-cent increase in the sales tax that had been agreed upon with Democrats to end the state's cash-flow crisis last January. To avoid the increase, which would automatically have gone into effect mid-way through the new fiscal year if the state budget remained out of balance, he proposed closing tax loopholes on candy and chewing gum, higher taxes on horse racing, accelerated tax collections on new homes, and other provisions. The $466 million in additional state revenue would be used to balance the budget, not to raise more money for education.

Senator Hart and Assemblywoman Hughes, both Democrats, chair the education committees in their houses. They find "no serious philosophical differences" between their bills and believe there can be--as she puts it--a "marriage" of reforms.

These are some of the bills' major proposals:

Graduation requirements. Both measures would re-establish statewide minimum high-school graduation standards--including three years of English, two years of mathematics, two years of science, and three years of social studies. The Hart bill would require one year of fine arts.

The Hughes bill would make this one year of fine arts or foreign language; it also includes a requirement that students show proficiency in computer literacy.

Length of school day and year. Both bills would give financial incentives to increase the school year from 175 to 180 days and to lengthen the school day.

Teachers' salaries. Both measures would provide state aid to local districts to increase the salaries of beginning teachers over a three-year period to $18,000. The current minimum is about $13,500.

Merit pay. The Hart bill would allow higher salaries for "teaching mentors"--classroom teachers who would be assigned additional duties in supervising and assisting other teachers, particularly beginning instructors. The Hughes bill would authorize a stipend of up to $4,000 for 5 percent of a district's teaching force--master teachers who would be given additional duties in curriculum development and assistance to other teachers.

The bill also would let districts negotiate teachers' salaries "based on criteria other than years of experience and education," the only criteria currently used.

Teacher dismissal. Both measures would reduce the probationary period for new teachers from three to two years and would give districts greater flexiblility in dismissing teachers during this period. Under both bills, districts could deviate from seniority in laying off teachers if there were determined curriculum needs. The Hughes bill would include "reflection of the multicultural makeup in the state" as a layoff standard. It also would add an intermediate sanction of up to 15 days' pay suspension as an alternative to dismissal, and would require local school boards to set policies enabling parents to make complaints about school employees. Both bills would shorten the time needed to dismiss teachers and administrators.

Student discipline. The two measures would strengthen the authority of teachers to suspend students. They would make the suspension of elementary-school youngsters and the recommended expulsion of older students automatic for such offenses as unlawful possession of weapons, sale of drugs, and injury to another person not caused in self-defense.

Funding level. The Hughes bill would provide an average funding increase of 9 percent for school districts and would allow them to levy a general-purpose tax if they obtained approval from their voters; that tax, however, could not be a property tax, since such taxes are limited under Proposition 13. Senator Hart would give districts similar limited tax options. His bill would provide a 7.4-percent cost-of-living increase for 1983-84 that would rise to 10 percent if his provisions for a longer school year and minimum graduation standards are enacted.

Taxes. Senator Hart's bill would increase taxes on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and banks and corporations; repeal the sales-tax exemption for candy and gum; and raise the state sales tax by one-fourth of a cent for a two-year period. The Hughes bill proposes speeding up property-tax assessments and collections; increasing taxes on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and corporations; tightening income-tax deductions for limited-partnership tax shelters; and ending the deductions oil firms can take from the federal windfall-profits tax.

The Hughes bill has some educational provisions not contained in the Hart package.

It would allocate $1 million to establish secondary schools with a specialized curricula in high technology or the performing arts.

It would establish a voluntary "Golden State" examination program for high-school students in specified subject areas, similar to the Regents' Exams in New York State. Students passing the exams would receive an honors designation on their diploma.

And it would provide funds for 50 high schools with special problems, as measured by low college-entrance rates, high dropout rates and absenteeism, and low achievement. The 50 schools would be granted $200 per student annually for three years to improve their quality.

Neutral Positions

The states' two major teachers' unions--the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of National Education Association, and the smaller California Federation of Teachers--have taken neutral positions on the bills, chiefly because of their proposed weakening of employment protections for teachers.

Republican legislators, particularly in the Assembly, have indicated they want further changes in teacher licensing, in the early-spring deadline for notifying teachers that they may be laid off for the following year, and in the tight state regulation of categorical programs targeted at specific groups of stu-dents, such as those with limited ability to speak English.

They also want support for a proposed constitutional amendment to set up an "educational trust fund" that would receive a guaranteed annual percentage of the state's general-fund revenues.

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