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Legislatures in 3 States Act on Education Measures

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

FLORIDA


Florida lawmakers recessed last month after completing a session that was marked by controversy over several bills.

The most heated discussion focused on the state's merit-pay program, which lawmakers decided to fund for the 1985-86 school year at $16.6 million, despite a rancorous debate over the quality of the evaluation process that has been used to choose the first year's crop of merit teachers. Of the new appropriation, $6.6 million will go to the state's "associate master teachers" and $10 million will go to its "merit-schools" program, according to department of education officials.

Both Gov. Robert Graham and Commissioner of Education Ralph D. Turlington plan to review the merit-pay program and will issue a report by Jan. 1, 1986, on the evaluation problem, said Roger M. Nichols, deputy commissioner of education.

Although several bills were introduced in the session that would have phased out the merit-pay program, none were approved.

Lawmakers appropriated about $2.9 billion in general-revenue funds for public elementary and sec-ondary schools for 1985-86, an 8-percent increase over last year's appropriation.

Lawmakers also considered legislation, supported by the Governor, that would have implemented state-mandated testing and performance evaluations for teachers seeking recertification. Although the state's certification law for both new and current teachers was up for reauthorization, only the portion of the measure relating to recertification stirred controversy.

After considerable debate, lawmakers approved a version of the bill that leaves evaluation requirements for recertification up to local districts. Governor Graham has indicated that he may veto the bill.

Lawmakers also approved a home-schooling bill, but Mr. Turlington has asked the Governor to veto the measure because he is concerned that it does not adequately address situations in which a child is not receiving a satisfactory education, according to Mr. Nichols. If Governor Graham vetoes the measure, the Commissioner will push to have a revised bill introduced in the next session, the spokesman added.

Lawmakers "overwhelmingly" approved a measure that requires male students in Florida who are applying for financial aid to provide proof to the state department of education that they have registered for the draft, according to Mr. Nichols.

NEBRASKA


The Nebraska legislature ended its 1985 session this month after approving a measure that will reorganize the state's school districts and make the state responsible for a greater share of school support.

But because of poor economic conditions in the farming state, lawmakers did not appropriate funds to pay for the education-reform measures that were passed, but not funded, last year.

The lawmakers instead passed a bill that delays the implementation of most of the reforms approved last year until the 1986-87 school year, a state official said.

"This wasn't the year to ask for money," said Gerald Sughroue, assistant commissioner for school support and operations for the state department of education. "We're basically an agricultural state and the agricultural economy is depressed."

Legislators appropriated $185.5- million in state aid to elementary and secondary education, a 1.2-percent increase over the $183.2 million approved last year. A total general-fund budget of $828.3 million was also approved, which represents a 0.5-percent increase over last year's $823.4-million budget, ac6cording to Michael Calvert, director of the state's legislative fiscal office.

The school-reorganization measure that was approved by legislators will require the state's 666 elementary-only school districts "to merge or affiliate" with a K-12 district by 1989, Mr. Sughroue said. That change will consolidate the state's 954 districts to about 400.

The reorganization measure also includes a controversial 1-cent increase in the sales tax, effective Jan. 1, 1987, for the purpose of increasing state aid to public schools. The law requires that no more than 45 percent of the operational costs of the public-school system come from local property taxes after the 1986-87 fiscal year, according to Mr. Sughroue.

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Legislatures in 3 States Approve Education Measures

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Currently, local property taxes pay for about 70 percent of school operating costs, with most of the balance coming from the state.

The intent of the measure, according to Mr. Sughroue, was "to try to equalize taxes in the state and to provide equal opportunity for all kids."

In addition to the regular legislative session, Governor Robert Kerry has indicated that he plans to call lawmakers into a special session later in the year to address the school-finance issues raised during the latest session.

NEVADA


The Nevada legislature this month approved a "fairly substantial increase" in the state's biennial budget for elementary and secondary education, according to Michael R. Alastuey, associate superintendent for finance with the Nevada Department of Education.

The fiscal 1986 general-fund appropriation of $455 million represents a 12-percent increase over the 1985 appropriation, and the 1987 budget of $487 million represents a 6.7-percent increase over the 1986 appropriation.

The increased funding will pro6vide an 11-percent pay increase for all school personnel this year and a 3-percent cost-of-living increase next year.

The legislature also appropriated $12 million for school districts to use in fiscal 1986 and 1987 for "school-improvement programs."

The school-improvement funds can be used by districts as they choose, Mr. Alastuey said, but in approving the budget, the legislature urged school officials to use the money to reduce class sizes in grades 1-3.

In a separate bill, the legislature approved a one-time, 5-percent salary bonus to be awarded to teachers next month. The program will provide an average bonus of about $1,100 to current teachers who continue to teach in 1985-86.

The legislature also adopted a resolution to increase the number of credits required for high-school graduation, but it left the development of specific requirements up to the state board of education.

The "major disappointment" during this session, Mr. Alastuey said, was the legislature's failure to approve Governor Richard H. Bryan's request for a 28.7-percent increase in special-education funding. The legislature increased funding for special education by 9.4 percent in fiscal 1986 and by 8.2 percent in fiscal 1987.

Coordinated by Anne Bridgman, with reporting by Cindy Currence, Blake Rodman, and Pamela Winston.

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