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Texas Legislature Approves Richards's Reform Bill

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The Texas legislature last week approved Gov. Ann W. Richards's education-reform bill, which calls for school-based decisionmaking, a review of the state's testing program, and a health-insurance program for teachers.

Final action came after legislative leaders pushed the measure through the House without giving representatives a chance to offer amendments.

The successful attempt to limit the House to a simple up or down vote left many lawmakers crying foul last week over the way the bill was passed.

The last-minute maneuver on the bill also shut out an attempt by some members to bring up revisions to the state's no-pass, no-play provisions.

Despite the procedural controversy, however, observers said most state leaders were convinced that the reform bill was an important step toward upgrading the schools.

"We started a lot of things," said Sonia Hernandez, the Governor's education-policy director, adding that the bill "empowers the incoming education commissioner to completely redesign the system."

In addition to opening the issue of the state assessment system and creating a student-learning committee that will likely suggest another wave of reforms, the bill will require site-based management in all schools by 1992. In the meantime, it also will provide teachers with training on school management.

Ms. Hernandez said the reform plan should lay the groundwork for a subsequent school-improvement drive that would include performance-based assessments and requiring 10th graders to earn a Certificate of Initial Mastery, as called for in a report last year by the National Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.

"Making those things happen is really a long-term project," she added.

Officials estimate that the cost of the reform plan, not counting the health-insurance provisions, will range from $50 million to $75 million over two years. Officials said last week they were unsure how much funding lawmakers would decide to contribute to the insurance program.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Austin on July 8 to begin work on the state budget, which in addition to accommodating the school reforms must also pay for costly school-finance revisions passed this year.

Legislators also used the waning days of their regular session to clear up a glitch in the finance bill, which creates property-taxing districts largely along county boundaries in order to reduce spending inequities among school districts.

The legislature authorized an Aug. 10 election on a constitutional amendment that would grant the new taxing districts the ability to grant homestead exemptions. About 260 of the state's 1,052 districts currently grant the exemptions, which exempt a portion of the value of a taxpayer's principal residence.

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