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State Journal: Demanding answers; Counterattack

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Gov. Ned McWherter's education-reform plan is getting off to a slow start in the Tennessee legislature.

Although Mr. McWherter spent much of last year touring the state to develop the package and sell it to the voters, many lawmakers appear to be uncertain of how it will affect their school districts and wary of creating an income tax to pay for it.

Members of the House Education Committee wrote to the chairman of the state board of education this month saying they would suspend hearings on the $627-million proposal "indefinitely until ... answers to pertinent questions concerning the measure are available."

The legislators made clear that they wanted hard data on the benefits of the costly reforms before trying to sell them to the voters.

"We as a committee and as the General Assembly cannot discuss something that everyone thinks takes care of all the money problems and then go back and face the problems of local entities," the chairman of the panel told a reporter.

But state education officials said the delay was neither unexpected nor a major obstacle. They said that figures on funding allocations under the bill were to have been provided to lawmakers last week.

"We're at a point where they understand the education side of the bill, but now they want to talk about the finance side," said Brad Hurley, executive assistant to Commissioner of Education Charles E. Smtih.

Paul Brickner, whose seat on the Ohio state school board was jeopardized by a legal opinion from the state attorney general, has counterattacked.

The attorney general ruled in January that Mr. Brickner, an outspoken critic of Superintendent of Public Instruction Franklin B. Walter, was barred under state law from serving on the board while holding a job with the Social Security Administration.

But Mr. Brickner's allies in the House this month won passage of a bill deleting provisions in state conflict-of-interest laws that prohibit board members from holding federal jobs.

Soon after, Mr. Brickner demanded the resignation of Mr. Walter--whom he called "the Saddam Hussein" of Ohio education--for failing to keep the board advised of embarrassing fraud investigations in two school districts.

Whatever the ultimate fate of Mr. Brickner, observers say the public spat has strengthened calls for major changes in the state board.

Gov. George V. Voinovich and some lawmakers have suggested replacing the 21-member elected board with a 9-member panel appointed by the governor.--hd & ps

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