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Alabama House Scheduled To Vote on Bill To Hike Property Taxes and Lift Standards

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The Alabama House is expected to vote this week on a proposed constitutional amendment that would require property-tax increases in most school districts.

The measure, part of a legislative package proposed by Speaker of the House Jimmy Clark and approved by the ways and means committee last month, also would require districts to meet "accountability" standards set by the state.

Under the tax proposal, by 1991 all districts would have to levy a property tax of at least 20 mills to support education.

According to state education officials, the measure would force all but 12 of the state's 128 school systems to raise their taxes. They estimate that the bill would raise $69 million in local school funds.

Donald Eddins, public-relations director for the Alabama Education Association, said the bill would offer "needed additional support" to schools in the state, which ranks nationally among the highest in state support for education but "near the bottom," according to Mr. Eddins, in local support.

"The tax structure is such that it has been very difficult to get local funding," he said.

The measure would make it easier for school boards to seek property-tax hikes by allowing them to go directly to county commissions and city councils to request elections.

Under current law, school systems must first seek permission from the legislature before seeking tax increases.

The legislative package also includes an "accountability" bill that would put into law a series of standards approved last summer by the state board of education.

The standards include:

Establishing a performance-based accreditation system, with a provision allowing the state to take over districts that do not meet specified academic standards;

Requiring districts to appoint teams to assess their educational programs and needs, and allowing the state to withhold aid to those that fail to comply;

Developing new criteria for evaluating educators, and establishing a plan for their training and professional development;

Adopting regulations setting minimum periods of instructional time in "fundamental" subjects;

Mandating that all districts offer alternative school programs for "at risk" students; and

Requiring local boards to adopt policies to ensure a safe school environment.--d.c.

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