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Arizona Legislature Kills Choice, Balances Budget

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Arizona lawmakers have concluded a difficult and contentious 1990 session without giving final approval to Senate-passed open-enrollment legislation.

Action on that and other education measures was overshadowed, however, by efforts to balance the state budget in the face of a deficit initially estimated at $340 million.

In a last-minute compromise, legislators and Governor Rose Mofford approved a $205-million tax package that includes increases in property, corporate, income, and cigarette taxes. In conjunction with cost-cutting measures, the revenue increases were enough to stave off a threatened interruption of state services.

The school-choice measure, which passed the Senate by a one-vote margin, ran into opposition in the House from members who sought to exempt districts in urban areas from the law.

Although the Senate bill received hearings in the House education and rules committees, it was never scheduled for a floor vote.

While the open-enrollment measure died, officials of the state education department expressed satisfaction with the legislature's efforts to aid handicapped and preschool students.

One successful measure, for example, requires school districts to offer an extended school year for handicapped students whose education would be adversely affected by summer break. Lawmakers allocated $1.8 million to pay for the new program.

A second measure guarantees access to education for all handicapped preschoolers.

The program, which will be phased in over two years, requires that all eligible 4-year-olds be admitted to the program in the 1990-91 school year, at a cost of $1.2 million.

All handicapped 3-year-olds will be admitted to the program in the following year, at an annual cost of $1.4 million.

The legislature also approved a measure that is designed to improve the state's standardized-testing program by implementing a system of criterion-referenced tests to supplement an existing system of norm-referenced examinations for students in grades 3, 8, and 12.--pw

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