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State Journal: Tired of the tussle Choice growth

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Tired of proposing education spending priorities each year, only to see them ignored as state legislators tussled over their constituent districts' shares, the New York State Board of Regents recently decided to stop releasing a district-by-district breakdown of proposed state-aid spending.

The board moved last month to concentrate only on setting a few statewide spending priorities and to let the legislature take on the task of deciding district-by-district spending levels.

Christopher Carpenter, a spokesman for the state education department, said the regents decided the proposed district-by-district breakdown, released for informational purposes for the past several years, "immediately colored the reaction" toward the education budget and provoked politicians and educators to ignore statewide priorities as they concentrated on the bottom line for their districts.

The regents and Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol were especially annoyed this summer, Mr. Carpenter noted, when a record-setting, $760-million school-aid increase in the current budget included little money for their priorities, such as dropout prevention in poor districts.

"It's difficult for the legislators to look beyond their own home pressure," Mr. Carpenter said. "It doesn't mean they are bad people, it just means that, like everybody else, they have a lot of pressure on them to meet the needs of their constituents."

One argument against the school-choice concept, at least as it has been embodied in the interdistrict open-enrollment laws adopted by several states in recent years, is that it is unlikely to have a widespread appeal or a substantial impact on the schools.

Given the large area covered by many school districts, this argument goes, few parents and students are going to want to go to the trouble of traveling to a distant school, and those that do are more likely to be motivated by special circumstances that make it more convenient to do so than by a search for superior educational quality.

But a new state report in Minnesota, whose highly publicized open-enrollment experiment launched the current movement, shows that participation in the program is growing relatively rapidly, while still involving only a small fraction of all state students.

This fall, the first in which all districts in the state are covered by the choice law, 6,134 students are attending school in another district, the report indicated.

Last year, only 3,200 students were involved in the program.--PS & HD

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