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Mabus Offers Reform Package Tied to New Lottery

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Gov. Ray Mabus of Mississippi last week unveiled a sweeping, $500-million education-reform package to be funded in part by creation of a state lottery.

The package includes many of the most popular ideas in education reform, including merit schools, suspension of drivers' licenses for dropouts, and early-childhood intervention.

But the three-year plan drew immediate fire from some state lawmakers, who warned that the legislature was unlikely to accept the lottery idea.

Mr. Mabus estimated that the lottery would raise $180 million--a little more than a third of his requested new spending. The remaining $319.7 million would come from projected revenue growth in the state's general operating fund, without an increase in tax rates.

Mississippi's current budget for elementary and secondary education is $864.4 million.

Mr. Mabus did not immediately call a special session of the legislature to consider the proposals. But he has not ruled out the possibility of a session before the end of the year, according to a spokesman.

"These education improvements are ambitious, but they can be achieved and we can do it without a tax increase through a lottery," Mr. Mabus said in releasing the plan. "This money must be dedicated to education."

A lottery could be implemented as early as July 1990, Mr. Mabus said, if the required constitutional amendment is approved by voters in the spring.

But C. Jack Gordon, chairman of the Senate education committee, said the lottery proposal was unlikely to be placed on the ballot.

"This is an 'Alice in Wonderland' approach to financing these programs," Mr. Gordon said. "A lottery proposal might pass the House, and it might even pass the people, but it won't ever get to the people because it will never pass the Senate."

The House has passed a lottery amendment three times, but each time it has died in the Senate.

Peggy B. Peterson, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, urged that the lottery proposal be considered.

"I think the people of Mississippi should be given an opportunity to vote on" a lottery amendment, Ms. Peterson said. "I don't think the legislature should stop the process."

The package includes some bread-and-butter proposals that drew the endorsement of the mae, a Nation8al Education Association affiliate.

It slates $26 million in the program's second year and $58 million in the third for teacher raises, in an effort to bring state pay levels up to regional and national averages.

It proposes $36 million over the next three years for a statewide insurance pool to provide health coverage for teachers. Currently, teachers receive only $250 a year in health benefits, according to Ms. Peterson.

The Mabus plan also includes $67.2 million over three years to equalize funding among school districts.

Mr. Mabus said that schools should provide one hour of technolel10logy-based instruction a day for every student. To reach that goal, the plan seeks $50 million over three years to buy or lease computers, software, and video-learning tools.

The package also includes a two-pronged approach to a merit-schools plan. The first part--dubbed the "Better" schools program--would measure individual schools on a performance index that includes test scores, dropout rates, student and teacher attendance, percentage of students in the college-bound curriculum, and parental involvement.

Schools that showed improvement would receive incentive payments, and those that continued to improve over several years would gain relief from many state regulations.

In addition, the "Lighthouse" schools program would designate high-performance schools as "incubators" for pilot projects.

The total amount slated for both programs over three years is about $23 million. A "Corporation for Educational Innovation," to be led by representatives of the private sector, is to help design the two programs.

More than $17 million is designated for early-childhood programs. The plan calls for requiring school districts, child-care centers, and Head Start programs to screen every 3- and 4-year-old for school readiness.

The proposal also includes an "impairment and conservatorship" program similar to district-takeover laws in other states. If a district were not meeting minimum academic standards, it would be judged "impaired" and be required to submit to the state detailed plans to correct deficiencies. Such districts would also receive state assistance.

If such a district failed to upgrade its performance, the state could appoint a temporary "conservator," who would have the power of a local superintendent and school board until corrective action was taken.

Other proposals include:

Creating a debt-service fund for capital improvements, particularly installation of air conditioning;

Establishing school-based health clinics;

Appointing a special commission to design a program to encourage 8th graders to sign a contract to stay in school and maintain a C average in exchange for financial help in postsecondary education; and

Withholding drivers' licenses from school dropouts under age 18.

The Mabus plan also includes a variety of dropout-prevention initiatives; family- and adult-literacy programs; funds for academic coaches, teams, and competitions; and several higher-education initiatives, such as a teacher corps and partnerships with K-12 schools.

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