Texas Panel Approves Pared-Down Reform Plan
Dallas--In an effort to hold the initial cost of its school-reform proposals to less than $1 billion, the Texas Select Committee on Public Education last week adopted a final plan that calls for phasing in the sweeping proposals over the next four years.
The $987-million plan, adopted unanimously by the committee, would put most of the proposed increase in state funding for education into salaries for teachers, including a new career ladder and more state aid for low-wealth school districts.
The proposals will be submitted to the Texas legislature in a special session that Gov. Mark White has vowed to call as soon as he has enough votes to ensure their passage.
The Governor said he is negotiating with key legislators on a tax-increase package to fund the reforms. The proposal being discussed most would increase the tax on gasoline by 5 cents; revenues would go for education and highway repair. Other tax increases would also be needed to fund the reforms, the Governor has said.
Proposals Cut Back
To keep their cost below $1 billion in 1984, the committee, chaired by the Dallas computer magnate H. Ross Perot, scaled down its original proposals, including the recommendations for a longer school year, optional preschool for 4-year-olds, and a reduction in the size of classes for pupils in grades K-4.
"We have a broad consensus that this is a large step in the right direction," Governor White said. "I believe the people of Texas will applaud the work of this committee."
The Governor said he is committed to seeing that the whole package is passed by the legislature in the special session, including the proposal to replace the current 27-member elected state board of education with a nine-member panel appointed by the governor.
"I will be meeting with members of the legislature on a daily basis to try and get their endorsement," the Governor said.
Mr. Perot, founder of Dallas-based Electronic Data Systems, said of the cutbacks in his committee's original proposal: "I feel great. I don't feel we lost anything we need. I'm ready for the next round--that's to get it passed into law."
Additional $2.4 Billion
As part of the effort to get legislative backing for its proposals, the committee proposed to delay until 1988 its recommendation that the legislature lengthen the school day and fund a full-day kindergarten program for 5-year-olds.
Originally, the state comptroller had estimated that all of the committee's recommendations would cost an additional $2.4 billion in state and local money in the 1984-85 school year.
Last month, the committee had voted to add 10 days to the school year, lower the maxixmum class size to 15 in grades K-4, and offer an optional preschool program for all 4-year-olds in the state.
Those remain the official goals of the committee, according to the chairman.
Revised Plan Adds Five Days
But the revised plan approved Thursday for 1984-85 calls for adding five days to the current 185-day school year, lowering the maximum class size for the 1st and 2nd grades to 20 and establishing an optional preschool program for disadvan-4p6taged 4-year-old children.
Most of the funding for the reform package will probably go into teachers' salaries, commiteee members said. The committee proposed spending $350 million for salaries and the career ladder. The panel also recommended that $400 million in equalization aid be appropriated to poor districts.
The districts are likely to use most of those funds to increase teachers' salaries, since they are now supplementing state salaries by small amounts only.