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Governor Backs Further Welfare Revisions in Wis.

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Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin last week sketched out new welfare-reform measures aimed at keeping poor, unwed teenage parents at home with their families and at expanding the state's controversial Learnfare program.

The new proposals, unveiled in the Governor's annual State of the State Address, are part of an ongoing effort by Mr. Thompson to overhaul Wisconsin's welfare system by tying benefits to "responsible behavior" in recipients.

Last year, for example, Mr. Thompson proposed providing financial incentives for teenage parents on welfare to marry.

The state is currently seeking a waiver from the federal government in order to begin operation of that program, dubbed "bridefare" by some critics. The state's Learnfare program, which has been adopted by several other states since its inception in 1989, docks welfare benefits for the families of teenagers with excessive unexcused absences from school. At its peak, the Wisconsin program has resulted in reduced benefits for more than 2,000 families.

The current program affects only students 13 and older. In his speech last week, Mr. Thompson proposed expanding Learnfare on an experimental basis to the families of chronically truant 6- to 12-year olds, in an effort to "reach these children before they develop the habit of skipping school."

"Keeping our children in school is a high priority for all of us," the Governor said, "and that's what Wisconsin welfare reform is all about."

In order to "keep family units intact," Mr. Thompson also urged that unwed teenage parents on welfare be required to live at home with their own parents or guardians or under the supervision of some other adult.

The Governor also proposed tougher penalties for welfare fraud and measures to discourage poor families from other states from moving to Wisconsin to collect welfare benefits.

A major part of Mr. Thompson's address was devoted to discussion of a new education-reform proposal that he and the leaders of the state's education community announced last month.

The $91-million plan would set up a new statewide testing system, allow principals to revoke student work permits, and provide incentives for districts to adopt longer school years, among other measures. (See Education Week, Jan. 29, 1992.)

Mr. Thompson said he also favored increasing a new state financed exemption for homeowners on local school taxes.

OREGON Roberts Urges Savings For New School Burden

Gov. Barbara Roberts has proposed to respond to Oregon's heavy new school-funding burden by adopting several strategies for streamlining government services.

In her Jan. 23 State of the State Address, Governor Roberts said the cutbacks were made necessary by Measure 5, a property-tax lid approved by voters last year. Measure 5 requires the state to reimburse school districts for five years for revenue losses caused by the tax cap.

The state will face "massive new obligations as the burden for funding schools" is transferred from property taxes to state revenues, Ms. Roberts said. The Governor said the school funding shift would cost the state $550 million this year and an estimated additional $1 billion over the next two years.

"The bottom line is that you want to know that the taxes you pay are being spent well and that they will make a real difference," she said.

Among the cuts called for by Governor Roberts would be the elimination of 4,000 state jobs, of which roughly 900 will be education-related positions, according to Gwenn Baldwin, a communications assistant in the Governor's office.

Along with those downsizing initiatives, Ms. Roberts called for merging the state beards of higher and precollegiate education into a single beard of regents, a recommendation set forth by an education task force last month.

Governor Roberts said she will also evaluate the state's 300-plus beards and commissions to determine how many extraneous groups can be eliminated.

"It is time to clean out the attic of state government," she urged.--M.S.

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