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Louisiana Reform Package Signed

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The Louisiana legislature has passed an $8-billion state budget that includes a $145-million increase in spending for education.

The $1.46-billion precollegiate education appropriation represents an 11 percent increase over last year's spending level.

Lawmakers also overwhelmingly approved an omnibus education bill pressed for by Gov. Buddy Roemer. The measure increases teachers' salaries by 5 percent, at a cost of $66 million; abolishes lifetime certification for newly hired teachers; and mandates periodic reviews of teacher performance and the loss of certification for those who fail remedial-education programs.

The education bill also allows experienced teachers to earn higher salaries by taking on extra duties, and requires the state to issue "report cards'' rating the performance of Louisiana's schools.

In addition, lawmakers approved a measure sought by the Governor that significantly restructures the state's school-finance system.

The new law shifts to the state's 66 parish districts responsibility for $345 million in transportation, utilities, and other costs deemed "non-instructional.''

Although Mr. Roemer proposed to wean districts from such state subsidies this year through legislation that would have allowed them to raise 25 percent of the support costs locally, the Senate killed a property-tax measure that would have generated as much as $48 million in additional revenue.

Senators also heavily amended a measure that will raise the state sales tax by two cents over the next 11 months, reducing the revenues it had been expected to produce for districts by more than $50 million.

Mr. Roemer cut elsewhere in the budget to make up the shortfall, forcing districts to come up with only about 17 percent of this year's support costs.

"I think they can all live with that,'' said Senator Cecil J. Picard, the chairman of the chamber's governmental affairs committee who steered the tax measures through the Senate.

The Governor also has pledged to provide $15 million in state equalization aid to poor parishes.

"I'm not a good enough politician to call [the session] historic, but it certainly broke new ground,'' said Frederick R. Skelton, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. "All in all, we'd give [Mr. Roemer] a B plus.'' --PW

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