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Honig Unveils $1.5-Billion School-Reform Plan

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California's state school chief and two key lawmakers unveiled a comprehensive $1.5-billion legislative package last week that they said was designed to "keep the reform movement going'' in public education.

The proposed five-year program, which is focused primarily on improving the skills of new teachers and lowering pupil-teacher ratios, drew immediate criticism from Gov. George Deukmejian, who chastised its sponsors for failing to say how the effort would be financed.

The Governor and the state superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig, have been engaged in a fierce public debate over the past several weeks over the adequacy of Mr. Deukmejian's proposal to spend $16 billion for precollegiate education in the upcoming fiscal year. (See Education Week, Jan. 21, 1987.)

While the Governor maintains that amount would raise state aid to schools by 4 percent, Mr. Honig contends it would fall about $600 million short of the amount needed for schools to maintain their current level of services.

The plan proposed by Mr. Honig and the lawmakers would restorethe $600 million that they say would be cut under the Governor's budget plan, and authorize another $900- million in new programs, beginning in fiscal 1987-88.

'Teaching Hospitals'

Among the proposed initiatives is the selection of 12 schools--comparable to "teaching hospitals'' for medical interns and residents--where new teachers would be given the opportunity to develop their skills. If approved, the program would be the first of its kind adopted on a statewide basis. (See Education Week, Nov. 19, 1986.)

The omnibus bill, which is being co-sponsored by State Senator Robert Presley and Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, the chairmen of their chambers' appropriations committees, would also:

  • Raise the salaries of beginning teachers to $27,000, from a current average of about $21,000.
  • Expand the state's "mentor teacher'' program, which provides $4,000 annual stipends for instructors who earn the designation. Only 5 percent of the state's total teaching force is eligible for mentor-teacher status under current law; the proposal would raise the limit to 10 percent.
  • Require first-year teachers to spend 80 percent of their time in the classroom and the remaining 20 percent in instructional programs headed by mentor teachers and administrators. The state would pay the salaries of new teachers for the time they spend in the programs.
  • Abolish the use of "emergency'' certificates for teachers in shortage areas.

Class Sizes

The plan outlined by Mr. Honig would also provide funds to reduce class sizes in high-school mathematics, science, and writing courses.

According to Bill Rukeyser, a special assistant to Mr. Honig, although most state educators agree that class sizes need to be reduced at all grade levels, the proposal reflects the "political reality'' that the cost of such an effort would be prohibitive.

The proposal, he said, would give the state "more bang for the buck'' by focusing on courses that educational researchers say benefit most from lower pupil-teacher ratios.

In his budget address, Mr. Deukmejian proposed a controversial trade-off that would pay for smaller class sizes in the 1st grade by eliminating several categorical programs for gifted and disadvantaged students. Mr. Rukeyser noted that Mr. Honig's plan would preserve funding for those programs.

Investment in Future

"This is an investment that will pay off threefold and fourfold,'' Mr. Honig said during a March 9 press conference in Sacramento to announce the introduction of the bill.

"It will pay off by making quality people available to do the high-technology work that will need doing as we move into the next century,'' he said. "And it will pay off by reducing the staggering prison costs facing this state, because statistics prove that well-educated persons rarely become prison inmates.''

In a statement released later the same day, Governor Deukmejian said: "I am not impressed with those who advance new ideas without identifying where the money would come from to pay for them.''

Mr. Vasconcellos, the chairman of the Assembly's appropriations panel, said he would introduce a "revenue enhancement'' proposal shortly to help provide funds for Mr. Honig's proposal. While he declined to give details, he suggested that additional revenue could be obtained by closing loopholes in the administration of the state's 6 percent sales tax.

Correspondent Bob Schmidt in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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