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Education Measures Enacted in Alabama, Colorado, Rhode Island

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Legislatures in Alabama, Colorado, and Rhode Island concluded their regular sessions this month. The following summaries of their actions on education matters were reported by Sheppard Ranbom, Susan G. Foster, and Correspondent Cynthia Smith.

ALABAMA


The Alabama Legislature, completing its regular session May 21, approved a $1.8-billion education budget but defeated tax proposals to raise more than $100 million for schools.

Lawmakers also approved Gov. George Wallace's education-reform plan, which called for a 15-member commission to study career-ladder and merit-pay plans for teachers and make recommendations for other improvements in elementary and secondary schools.

Although they approved the bill, legislators criticized it for not mandating enough reform.

Tax Measures Downed

Nonetheless, the two tax measures, the biggest part of Governor Wallace's reform program, were defeated on the final night of the session.

Senators were angered when Governor Wallace vetoed a bill that would have allowed cities in "dry" counties to vote to sell liquor. In a procedural move designed to keep that bill alive, the Senate adjourned before voting on a property-tax package, thereby ensuring the defeat of additional taxes for schools.

The property-tax amendment would have raised state property taxes from 6.5 mills to 12.5 mills and would have brought in about $65-million annually, half of which would have been earmarked for education.

The House also adjourned without acting on a constitutional amendment to raise income-tax rates from 5 to 6 percent.

The amendment had passed in both the House and Senate, but the Senate had changed the referendum election date.

The income-tax increases would have generated another $65 million annually for education.

Governor Wallace's press secretary, Billy Joe Camp, called the defeat of the tax bills a "blow to the permanent funding of education."

Both tax measures required voter approval and would have been effective in the 1986 fiscal year.

Discretionary Reform Funds

The legislature did approve the $1.8-billion education budget with $14.8 million in a Governor's discretionary fund for education reform.

The 1984-85 budget contains $300 million more than the current year's budget, but about $125 million is in one-time funding.

Kindergarten Funding

Governor Wallace said the discretionary money will pay the expenses of the reform commission and provide money for pilot programs in areas commissioners recommend.

The legislature also approved 15-percent pay raises for Alabama's teachers, which will bring the average salary to about $20,000.

The budget also provides full funding for kindergarten programs, under a $53-million appropriation. A bill to provide money for kindergarten materials died on the final day of the session but was introduced again when a special session was called May 22.

Budget allocations for kindergartens and raises for teachers are in line with recommendations State Superintendent Wayne Teague made in his "Plan for Excellence."

The legislature made several appropriations to support that plan, including:

$270,000 for a training program for principals and administrators;

$5 million to upgrade libraries;

$20 million to replace unsafe school buses;

$1 million for mathematics, science, and computer equipment;

$1 million to upgrade vocational- education equipment; and

$8 million in capital outlay for both precollegiate and postsecondary institutions.

COLORADO


The Colorado legislature, which began this year's session with 114 education bills, ended it last week by passing "a number of housekeeping bills and little reform legislation," according to Robin W. Johnston, assistant to the state education commissioner and legislative liaison for the Colorado Department of Education.

But she described some of the bills that did pass--particularly an evaluation law and a school-discipline law--as "very important."

According to Donald D. Amant, chairman of the state board of education, lawmakers did not tamper with the philosophy of local control and left the process of school reform to school districts.

"I think with all the interest and all the criticism of the national reports, it is rewarding to see that the philosophy of local control in the state of Colorado is dominant," he said. "It puts the responsibility on the department of education, the state board, and local districts to follow through and take leadership. In the face of all this pressure from the national studies and the governor, the lawmakers have still decided to give local control another chance."

Discipline Policy Required

The school-discipline law requires that every district adopt a discipline policy and that school districts back teachers in legal proceedings provided that teachers have acted in good faith to implement the policy, according to Ms. Johnston.

"When it comes to taking troublesome students out of class for expulsions and suspensions, teachers fear that their principals won't back them up, and everyone is afraid of parents," Ms. Johnston said.

"The pervasive fear of lawsuits has undermined the rightful authority schools should have over the discipline of students," she said.

Funding Increases

According to Ms. Johnston, the legislature raised state equalization funding by $53.9 million for fiscal 1985, allowing a $159.44 (or 5.5-percent) increase in per-pupil expenditures. (Students in districts with more than 500 students per square mile will receive an additional 1.03-percent increase per pupil.)

The legislature also provided an additional $1 million so that 61 of the state's 181 districts that spend less than $2,550 per child can increase per-pupil expenditures by $170 next year.

Lawmakers voted to abolish the Colorado State Budget Review Board. They allocated an additional $1 million to the state board of education to provide extra funds for districts in need. Previously, a district could only receive additional equalization funding the year following its request; now, districts below the average authorized revenue base will be eligible to receive additional equalization in the first year, while those above the state average will not be eligible at all, according to Ms. Johnston.

Districts will also be allowed to go4directly to voters for an additional tax levy without first seeking approval of the now-defunct review board.

Personnel Assessment

Lawmakers passed a bill that provides $30,000 in start-up fees to establish committees at both the state and district levels that will be asked to study how best to assess certified school personnel. The committees are to comprise teachers, parents, and administrators, according to Ms. Johnston.

A resolution approved by legislators recommends that the state board of education review the number and types of courses required of prospective elementary-school teachers. The board will review approved programs of preparation and recertification and report to the legislature during its 1985 session.

Another bill passed by the legislature allows teachers working on curriculum-development or school-improvement measures to receive four semester-hours of renewal cred8it beginning July 1, 1985. "This marks the first time teachers are able to get credit by working within their own schools," Ms. Johnston said. Currently, teachers must earn six semester-hours of credit every five years, she said.

Lawmakers approved a child-abuse bill that will require that teachers be provided information on the specific signs of child abuse and neglect.

Less State Paperwork

The legislature also voted to cut back required reporting by the state department of education. Previously, the department was required to present reports on school accountability and accreditation as well as a consolidated report. Now, only one status report every year will be required. This will cut back on data collection by districts, many of which have complained about too much paperwork, Ms. Johnston said.

A school-attendance bill approved by lawmakers will keep the school calendar at 180 days, but will remove four snow days from the calendar. Children will be required to attend school 176 days rather than 172.

The legislature passed a bill to allow the state to have more than oneel5Lsalary schedule. The change would permit officials to develop a variety of career-ladder, mentor-teacher, or master-teacher plans on the local level.

Tenure Abolition Defeated

A bill to abolish tenure and lifetime certificates failed unanimously in the Senate education committee; a bill to put an additional 1-percent tax on liquor, proceeds from which would be used to teach about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse in schools, failed in the House education committee, as did a bill to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21.

RHODE ISLAND


The Rhode Island General Assembly approved a $22-million increase in state funding for education during the 1984 session that ended earlier this month, along with a bill that will raise slightly the state's contribution to local school districts.

The legislature appropriated about $230.8 million for the schools in fiscal 1985, according to Lorraine Webber, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education. The increase will boost the state's basic-grant program to the schools from its current level of about $147-4million to about $161 million next year.

Ms. Webber said that in fiscal 1984, the legislature provided about $208.4 million overall in support of public education.

In addition, according to Ms. Webber, the legislature approved a bill that will revise the state-aid formula so that the state's current share of the cost of education will increase from about 38 percent to 39.5 percent.

At the same time, the rate at which the state will reimburse school districts for operating expenses under the state-aid formula will decline from its current rate of 101 percent to 100 percent, Ms. Webber explained.

Lawmakers also approved--for the first time--about $300,000 for the education-improvement fund, which was established in 1960, according to Ms. Webber, to encourage higher academic standards in school programs. The money would be used to fund school-based improvement projects in 15 school districts.

In approving the funds for the program, Ms. Webber said, the General Assembly stipulated that a portion be allocated to 11 wealthy school districts that would not benefit from increases targeted for the foundation-aid program.

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