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The Education Committee of the Mississippi Senate has approved a bill aimed at helping school districts cope with fiscal strains created by state budget cuts.

Local educators have been trying this year, so far without success, to get lawmakers to restore $30 million in state school aid cut last year. (See Education Week, Feb. 12, 1992.)

Under the bill, districts would be allowed to shorten their school year by five days to avoid budget deficits in the 1992-93 year, if they were unable to make enough cuts elsewhere.

The bill also would allow districts to reduce teachers' and administrators' salaries in proportion to the number of school days dropped.

Other provisions of the bill would allow districts to:

  • Use up to 50 percent of textbook funds to meet other budget needs.
  • Raise student-teacher ratios from 24 to 1 to 25 to 1 in K-4 classrooms, and from 27 to 1 to 28 to 1 in 5th through 12th grades.
  • Extend the deadline for notifying teachers whether their contracts will be renewed from April 8 to April 15.

Kentucky education officials have temporarily abandoned their effort to create a higher-paid personnel system distinct from those of other state agencies.

Noting that Gov. Brereton Jones has asked most state employees to do without a cost-of-living increase, education department officials said the time was not right to push for a separate pay system that would allow their agency to offer higher salaries.

The department had been urging legislation creating a new merit system for its 66 policymakers and 253 classified education professionals.

Commissioner of Education Thomas C. Boysen has maintained that his agency needs a separate pay system to be able to offer salaries high enough to recruit top professionals. (See Education Week, May 15, 1991.)

South Carolina public schools would be required to set aside one minute at the start of each day for "voluntary silent prayer,'' under a bill approved by the House education committee.

The silent time would enable students and teachers to "contemplate the challenges of the upcoming school day and assume a frame of mind that promotes the proper atmosphere for learning and teaching,'' the bill's preamble states.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar measure in 1985, ruling that an Alabama law requiring one minute of silent prayer or meditation did not serve a secular purpose.

The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill to ensure that the expanded preschool programs adopted by the state two years ago not become competitors to private day care.

The bill would require school districts to continue to admit students based on need if they expanded programs for 4-year-olds beyond the targeted free-lunch population. Further, if districts expanded the program and charged tuition, the rate would be set at the average of private child care in the surrounding county.

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