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The California Lottery is shortchanging education by diverting some unclaimed prizes back into jackpots instead of turning them over to the public schools, the state controller has charged.

Controller Gray Davis found in an audit that $5.9 million in unclaimed winnings should have been given to education, as the 1984 lottery law requires.

"What the Lottery did last year was illegal," Mr. Davis said this month at a press conference held with school and union officials. "The law states very clearly that all unclaimed prizes go to education."

The funds were from $5 winning tickets, which normally are redeemed by the retail outlets that sold them.

Lottery officials contend that the law requires only that the schools receive funds from unredeemed winning tickets for larger prizes, which are distributed directly by the lottery commission. They have asked the state attorney general for a ruling to clarify the issue.

The controller's office estimates that pub6lic education would lose $18 million this fiscal year and $140 million over the next five years if the practice continues. Mr. Davis has vowed to go to court if necessary to force the commission to turn over the funds.

State aid to West Virginia schools should be allocated according to students' needs, rather than on a straight per-pupil basis, a task force on rural schools has recommended.

The panel argued in a report last month that the 25 least-populated counties are penalized by the current funding formula, which does not take into account the extra expenses associated with operating a system in a thinly settled area, such as higher transportation costs, as well as rural areas' above-average percentage of students with special needs.

The Special Task Force on Rural School Districts also found that the counties, which enroll 20 percent of the state's students, were the targets of 28 percent of the budget cuts imposed last year.

California mental-health officials are trying to prevent distribution of a controversial state-funded film on teenage suicide.

Officials had decided against using the $237,000 film in 1986, after medical studies suggested that news reports and movies about suicides might encourage some youths to kill themselves, according to Dean R. Owen, a spokesman for the mental-health department.

Experts who reviewed "Give Yourself a Chance" were particularly concerned about a scene in which a young man tries to hang himself, Mr. Owen said last week.

Department officials now want to acquire the master copy of the film in order to prevent any independent distribution. But the producer, Jerry Naylor, has resisted, arguing that the state's efforts amount to censorship.

The Ohio board of education has voted to create an advisory commission on reform of the mathematics and science curriculum.

The panel will seek testimony from employers on their needs for a mathematically and scientifically literate work force, and consider ways to hasten the implementation of needed changes in the schools, officials explained last week.

Board members said they were spurred to act by several recent reports that found low levels of science and mathematics proficiency among students.

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