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To the Editor:

In your report on school finance, you say that the recent decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Kukor v. Grover was based on "the number of at-risk students in [Milwaukee] who needed special programs" ("Children at Risk: 'There's a Lot More Oratory Than Real Money,"' April 26, 1989).

The term "at risk" usually has a narrow meaning, referring to children who are at risk of dropping out of school. The issues raised were actually much broader than that.

They were described in the circuit-court decision as follows:

"Plaintiffs undertook to prove: that the financing system fails to recognize and respond to numerous extraordinary educational tasks and burdens and resulting high costs in school districts with a high concentration of poverty students; that the system fails to recognize municipal overburden, the need for nonschool municipal services, which imposes an extraordinary burden on taxpayers in those school districts, making it nearly impossible to finance public-school education from the local property-tax base; that the financing system does not recognize and compensate for higher labor and operations costs in many school districts; and that the system also both permits and condones unacceptable dispari4ties in per-pupil expenditures."

Had the Kukor case turned solely on attention to at-risk pupils, it would have run head-on into the fact that Wisconsin specifically provides financing for such children.

Kent McGuire is quoted as saying, "It's not clear to us there is a state-aid system out there that said that dropout prevention is a program and we're going to create a weight for it."

But Wisconsin's approach has been to mandate that "every school board shall make available to the children at risk enrolled in the school district a program for children at risk."

If the program shows evidence that it is actually helping the children, the district gets a 10 percent increment in the equalization aid for each such child.

The program is currently restricted to high-school pupils, but Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert J. Grover has proposed extending it to pupils in grades 3-8 and raising the aid increment to 20 percent.

June 30 will mark the completion of the 40th school year of equalization aid in Wisconsin.

Like Abe Lincoln's axe, it's had five new handles and two new heads along the way, but it's the heir to a proud lineage.

Richard S. Russell
Policy Analyst
State Department of Public Instruction
Madison, Wis.

Editors' note: The term "at risk" was not used in the Reform at 5: The Unfinished Agenda series in the narrow sense the writer suggests. For a discussion of the definitional problem, we refer him to the opening article in the series in the April 27, 1988, issue. Nor did the finance article state that the Wisconsin decision was "based on" the number of at-risk pupils in Milwaukee; the report made clear, by citing the New Jersey finance case as analogous, that the "broader issues" described above were involved.

To the Editor:

I am responding to Pearl R. Kane's Commentary ("Public Boarding Schools for Gifted Deserve Support," April 26, 1989).

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, pl 94-142, is directly responsible for the erosion of residential schools for the deaf and blind over the past 15 years.

This system of educating sensory-impaired children has been in existence for more than 150 years.

It is difficult to understand how boarding schools for the intellectually gifted can be supported by educators on the same grounds that are used to close residential schools for the deaf and blind.

Would gifted deaf or blind children be able to attend these schools, or would they continue to be educated at the local level--since this is often their predetermined "least restrictive environment"?

Bruce A. Dalton
Conyers, Ga.

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