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Ala. Governor Declares 'War on Mediocrity' in Schools

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Montgomery, Ala--Gov. George C. Wallace has called for a "major war against mediocrity in education" and asked the legislature for $132 million in new taxes to wage it.

In a Feb. 9 address to the legislature, Governor Wallace asked the members to approve increases in the state's personal and corporate income taxes and to raise property taxes to provide the money needed to improve the state's schools.

Governor Wallace officially adopted State Superintendent Wayne Teague's "Plan for Excellence" and labeled it "the Alabama Plan." (See Education Week, Jan. 25, 1984.) The state's schools must improve, the Governor said, because "we are in a heavily contested battle with our neighboring states." Within the past two years, many Southern states have enacted major education reform plans, and others are now considering substantial changes.

Among the proposals in the Alabama plan are measures to increase high-school graduation requirements, establish an honors diploma, limit extracurricular activities, and set up a group to study merit pay and career ladders for teachers.

Less than a half-hour after he completed his legislative speech, Governor Wallace asked the Alabama Board of Education to approve a package of more than 70 resolutions aimed at implementing Mr. Teague's plan for reform. The board will vote on those resolutions on Feb.23. The Governor, who is president of the state board by virtue of his office, has pledged to favor "every one."

Raised Taxes

To pay for those reforms, which range from improving maintenance of school facilities to requiring all high schools to offer foreign languages, Governor Wallace asked lawmakers to raise personal and corporate income taxes for middle- and high-income families from 5 percent to 6 percent of their Alabama taxable income, beginning in 1986.

Alabama taxable income is determined slightly differently from federal taxable income, according to state officials.

He also asked lawmakers to raise property taxes by 6 mills, from 6.5 mills to 12.5 mills, also beginning in 1986.

The income-tax proposal would produce an estimated $90 million for the Special Education Trust Fund, which supports public education at all levels in the state.

The Governor said he wants to put 2 mills or about $28 million of the property-tax increase into education at the state level. Under his bill, another 1 mill set aside for local governments would have to be used for local schools. Each mill brings an estimated $14 million in revenue.

The property- and income-tax increases will take the form of constitutional amendments and will thus require voter approval.

A number of Alabama educators said they will join Mr. Teague in campaigning for the additional revenue if the legislature approves the two constitutional amendments that would be needed to raise taxes.

Meanwhile, Governor Wallace, who worked with an estimated $308-million increase in education-trust funds for the 1984-85 year, gave legislators a budget proposal that would fully fund the state kin-dergarten program, give a 14-percent raise to teachers, and put $1 million into a scholarship program for prospective mathematics and science teachers.

The Governor also called for teachers and state employees to increase their contribution to the state retirement system by 1 percent beginning on Oct. 1. Officials of state employee and teacher organizations are opposed to the increase.

Representative Alvin Holmes plans to introduce--in addition to the Governor's proposed tax increases--a bill to establish a state lottery, with some revenue going to education. Mr. Wallace opposes the lottery.

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