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Ark. Governor Proposes Tax Hike for Schools

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Little Rock--Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas last week proposed raising taxes by more than $150 million to pay for major improvements in the state's public schools and colleges, and called a special session of the legislature to consider his plan.

In a televised address last Monday evening, Governor Clinton endorsed the main recommendations made this month by a statewide commission on educational standards and added one of his own: that teachers and administrators now on the job be required to attain a predetermined cutoff score on the National Teacher Examination by 1987 or face dismissal.

The state would provide tuition-free refresher courses and several opportunities to take the test for those not passing the first time. Arkansas now requires new teachers to take the examination in order to qualify for a license but, like most other states, has not required practicing educators to take the test.

The Arkansas Education Association immediately questioned the legality of the testing proposal. Peggy Nabors, president of the association, called it "another creation science," referring to an ill-fated Arkansas statute requiring equal classroom time for the theories of evolution and creation; the law was invalidated by a federal district judge.

Governor Clinton did not specifically propose any means of equalizing school districts' financial base, as required by the Arkansas Supreme Court, but he is expected to push during the special session for passage of the equalization formula proposed earlier this year by a statewide panel.

Plaintiff school districts in the case, Alma v. Dupree, have threatened to go back to court if the state does not comply immediately with the court order.

The Governor's other proposals were generally well received by legislative leaders, with some reservations. In the special session, beginning on Oct. 4, he will ask the legislature to consider:

Raising the state sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent and applying the tax to some services that are now exempt, increasing annual revenue by about $150 million;

Raising the severance tax on natural gas by an unspecified amount;

Putting into effect "immediately" some of the reforms recommended by the standards commission, including extending the school year by five days, making kindergarten mandatory, and basing promotions from grades 3, 6, and 8 on students' scores on basic-skills tests.

Permitting small school districts to form joint consolidated high schools while maintaining independent local elementary and junior high schools.

Experimenting with some unspecified form of performance-based pay for teachers.

Expanding vocational-technical offerings, computer education, and programs for gifted and talented students.

Improving faculty salaries, equipment and buildings, and library collections at state colleges and universities.

Shortly after Governor Clinton's speech, legislative leaders praised his ideas but said they wanted a firm commitment to enforcement of the new standards before they would be willing to support tax increases. The chairman of the state Republican Party, however, contended that the schools could get along without higher taxes.

Beginning what apparently will be an intense lobbying campaign, the Governor urged viewers to call or write their legislators and to wear a blue ribbon--available from his office--"to show you support education."

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