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Legislatures in Four States Approve Hikes in School Aid as Sessions End

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Following are summaries of how education measures fared in states that have concluded their current legislative sessions.


ARKANSAS


The Arkansas Legislature set funding levels for the state's foundation program for public schools at a level higher than requested by either Gov. Bill Clinton or the state board of education.

The Governor had proposed funding the foundation program at about $738 million for 1985-86 and $798 million for 1986-87. The legislature appropriated an additional $70 million, funding the program at $765-million for 1985-86 and $840 million in the second year of the biennium.

The funding levels were about $42 million higher than the state board's request and $363 million higher than the funding levels set for the previous biennium.

Some lawmakers also attempted to "water down" and delay school-reform standards that could force district consolidation. They also sought to repeal a state requirement that all teachers and administrators pass minimum-competency tests, according to D.L. Pilkington, deputy director for the general division of the Arkansas Department of Education. None of the efforts were successful.

Lawmakers approved a $3-million plan to launch educational cooperatives around the state to help neighboring districts share resources and meet the new state standards, according to Mr. Pilkington.

The legislature provided an additional $3.3 million to expand the state's computer-based education programs; set aside $1.2 million to establish a center to develop the skills of principals and administrators; amended the aid formula to provide additional financial incentives to encourage school-district consolidation; and established enabling legislation to develop a new division of the state's education department to assist with civil-rights compliance.

In addition, lawmakers passed a forgivable-loan program to encourage teachers and administrators to continue their professional training. The state will provide a loan covering the cost of six semester-hours of study and forgive 20 percent of the loan each year.

They also passed a bill to prevent hiring disputes between districts. The bill requires any district that employs a teacher already under contract to another district to pay the shorthanded district a sum of money equal to the teacher's salary.

And lawmakers established two task forces--one to study child-care programs and another charged with overseeing the establishment of teacher-development programs in two small, two medium, and two large districts.

MARYLAND


Maryland legislators approved a $7.5-billion state budget--which includes $1.3 billion for elementary and secondary education--during the 90-day legislative session that ended last week.

The new education budget represents a $364-million increase in spending for schools over the previous year's level.

Gov. Harry R. Hughes's proposed $12.5-million "children and youth" initiative passed with a $1.2-million reduction, according to Sheila Tolliver, executive assistant for education to the Governor. (See Education Week, Jan. 23, 1985.)

That reduction, she said, involved a proposed $1-million addition to a $2.2-million program that assists localities in providing half-day school programs for educationally and economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds.

A variety of reasons led to the measure's failure, Ms. Tolliver said. "One problem was that the legislation would have anticipated that the local school systems share in the cost of the local school program. We have been funding the program as a pilot project. We were going to make it an integrated part of local school programs and ask locals to contribute to the cost."

In addition, she said, "there were several districts that simply felt it was not appropriate to expand educational services to the level of 4-year-olds. There were some that felt they had other, higher priorities."

The only other setback to the Governor's children and youth proposals, Ms. Tolliver said, was the defeat of a $225,000 allocation to institute criminal-background checks--including fingerprints--of child-care workers, teachers, and other school employees.

Ms. Tolliver said there was "some fear that the program would be administratively burdensome and would not yield sufficient effective results to be worth it."

In other action, Ms. Tolliver said, legislators moved to allow a nonvoting student member on the state board of education and to approve a $34.6-million school-construction loan. The money will be distributed to localities in grants for the construction and renovation of school buildings.

MISSISSIPPI


Nearly 65 cents out of every dollar in Mississippi's general-revenue fund will be used to support education in fiscal 1986, according to C. Jack Gordon, chairman of the legislature's Senate Education Committee.

The legislature, which adjourned last week, approved approximately $588 million in state spending for education in grades 1-12; $60 million for two-year colleges; and $165-million for institutions of higher education, Senator Gordon said. Last year's education budget totaled $564 million.

Last month, the legislators overturned a gubernatorial veto and passed a three-year, $4,400 pay raise for the state's teachers to end a series of wildcat strikes. (See Education Week, March 27, 1985.)

Legislators also approved Gov. William A. Allain's proposal to create a trust fund for elementary, secondary, and vocational education, financed with taxes on oil and gas found on state-owned property.

The Governor proposed the fund because tax revenue previously slated to support the Education Reform Act of 1982 was channeled into other state operations during the recent recession, and the Governor feared that pattern would continue unless a special education fund was set up, according to an aide. Voters will have to pass a constitutional amendment in the next election before the fund can be established.

The education budget for the coming year includes $10 million to fund reading aides in grades 1 through 3 and $5 million to fund optional, full-day kindergarten programs, both of which are required under the Education Reform Act.

But lawmakers voted to put off indefinitely the consolidation of schools and districts that was called for under the act. Senator Gordon said that a plan from the state's Education Finance Commission to reduce the number of districts from 154 to 92 created too much controversy and that the legislature decided consolidations could best be handled during the school-accreditation process.

Legislators also voted to create a school for students who are gifted and talented in mathematics and science at a cost of $496,000 in fiscal 1986. Governor Allain was expected to veto that bill because of its cost.

The Governor's proposal that the state require criminal and background checks for child-care employees passed in the Senate but died in the House, according to Senator Alan M. Heflin, a member of the public health and welfare committee.

NORTH DAKOTA


The North Dakota Legislature concluded its biennial session this month after approving two major education-related measures and defeating three new proposals.

The legislature approved a $418-million appropriation for elementary and secondary education in the 1985-87 biennium, according to Joseph C. Linnertz, a spokesman for State Superintendent Wayne San-stead. This represents a 7.2-percent increase over the 1983-85 appropriation.

The appropriation fell midway between the $411-million request of George Sinner, the state's new Democratic Governor, and the $425-million proposal of the outgoing Republican governor, Allen I. Olson.

The legislature also approved money to fund a new position for a state-level coordinator of chemical-abuse education in the schools. Lawmakers provided $150,000 for the post, which will be part of the state department of public instruction. The coordinator will work with other state agencies on developing a plan for drug- and alcohol-abuse education.

A number of bills were roundly defeated, including a proposal by Governor Olson to create eight regional technical-assistance centers for schools. The centers would have replaced the existing 53 county-level school superintendents' offices. The proposed bill was defeated 93 to 5.

Lawmakers also voted down a measure to increase the number of school days per year from 180 to 185.

Another proposal that was introduced by Governor Olson would have created an inservice-training center for administrators. It was defeated by a vote of 100 to 1.

"There was an across-the-board feeling that with only x number of dollars, the legislature would rather put the money into programs we have now than spread too few dollars too thin," Mr. Linnertz said.

Coordinated by Anne Bridgman, with reporting by Linda Chion-Kenney, Lynn Olson, Sheppard Ranbom, and Pamela Winston.

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