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Clements Expected To Veto $555-Million Finance Bill in Texas

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Laboring under a May 1 deadline, the Texas legislature last week approved a $555-million school-finance bill. But Gov. William P. Clements Jr. was expected to veto the measure.

Lawmakers planned to convene early this week for an attempt to override the Governor's veto. Sources said the Senate would probably be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Prospects for an override in the House were less clear, however.

The legislature was under court order to devise a new school-finance plan by May 1.

"We just don't know what will happen," said Claudia Olson, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Gib Lewis.

The override attempt is expected to take on partisan overtones. Mr. Clements is a Republican, while Democrats control 90 of the 1504seats in the House and 24 of the 31 Senate seats.

The school-finance measure passed the House by a margin of about 30 votes, and the Senate approved it on a 26-to-5 vote.

Both chambers also have approved a bill to increase the state sales tax by half a cent, thus raising an estimated $442 million. The remaining money for the school-finance reforms would come from reallocating existing funds.

In addition, the House has approved a bill ordering the state to send out its aid payments for the month to districts before May 1. Normally, those payments would not be made until May 25.

That bill needed approval from two-thirds of the House and Senate. As of late last week, the Senate had not voted on the measure, but was expected to take it up early this week.

As the deadline approached late last week, lawmakers scrambled to get both the tax bill and the school-finance bill on the Governor's desk by April 27 so they could attempt an override April 30. The Senate session was delayed, however, when a thunderstorm caused many members to be late flying into Austin.

"I think people are looking toward the heavens and wondering if maybe God is not pleased, " mused an aide to the House education committee.

The state's teachers, meanwhile, were planning to picket the Governor's mansion early this week. Teachel15lers' groups have also filed briefs with the court, asking that school employees be paid even if the judge orders all other state funding halted.

"Everybody's filing lawsuits right and left," said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. The Texas Classroom Teachers' Association and the Association of Texas Professional Educators have filed similar suits, he said.

"Even if schools stagger through till the end of May, school employees will get hit very hard," Mr. Cole said.

Although there was speculation early last week that schools would be forced to close if the legislature failed to meet its deadline, those fears had abated somewhat by week's end.

"There might be a few [schools that close]," said Representative Ernestine V. Glossbrenner, chairman of the House education committee. "But they'd have to get the commissioner's permission in order to do it."

Such permission was unlikely, she added.

Most schools have almost enough money now to get through the rest of the school year, according to a spokesman for the state education agency. If the legislature votes to release May's funds this week, he noted, schools will not be affected by the delay in enacting a finance measure.

The bill cleared by the legislature calls for about $5.4 billion in new spending over five years. It has the support of a wide range of education groups, including the teachers' groups and the Equity Center, a coalition of low-wealth districts that were plaintiff-interveners in the suit.

Besides adjusting the state's funding formula, the legislation contains several other notable elements. It provides that:

Preschool education be available for all 3-year-olds in the state by the 1991-92 school year;

Individual achievement standards be established for all schools; and

"Exemplary" schools--those that met or exceeded certain achievement goals--be exempted from some state regulations.

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