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State Journal: Raucous reception; Suit side switch

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One morning during the annual meeting of the Education Commission of the States in Seattle last month, workshops were interrupted by the raucous strains of an organ playing such tunes as "Louie, Louie" and ''The Old Grey Mare."

The music was local teachers' less-than-friendly way of noting that Gov. Booth Gardner of Washington State had been selected as chairman of the ecs for the coming year.

While Mr. Gardner gave his inaugural address to the conference, several thousand teachers organized by the Washington Education Association rallied outside the hotel to denounce his policies.

Washington State teachers have been bitterly critical of the Governor for failing to support what they see as adequate pay increases at a time when the state has been running a budget surplus.

"No more hot air!" chanted demonstrators, to the backdrop of a giant balloon filled with just that.

Among those addressing the rally was Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, which the previous evening had cosponsored an elaborate reception for ecs delegates.

During his speech, Governor Gardner made only one subtle reference to the jeering crowd outside.

"Imagine today that there were 4,000 children--let me re-emphasize that--children outside the hotel chanting, 'We want to learn,"' he said.

A number of the state policymakers at the conference expressed the hope that, as has happened in Kentucky and other states recently, a court would strike down key parts of their educational system, thus clearing away some of the political obstacles to school reform.

Something similar is happening in Alabama, where several of the defendants in a school-finance suit filed by low-wealth school districts are trying to switch sides.

State Superintendent of Education Wayne Teague, Lieut. Gov. James E. Folsom Jr., and Speaker of the House James S. Clark say they agree so strongly with the districts' argument that the state's school-funding system is inequitable that they want to become plaintiffs.

But crossing that legal divide is not turning out to be easy. A judge last month declined to grant the officials' request, instead setting a hearing for late this month on the matter.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Mark Montiel questioned whether the state leaders had enough legally in common with the local districts, other than that they agreed with what the plaintiffs were saying.--hd

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