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State Journal: Shock troops; Strange ways

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Martial strains were in the air as the academics, lawyers, and consultants who are on the front lines of the states' increasingly frequent school-finance battles gathered at the annual meeting of the American Education Finance Association in New Orleans last month.

The military note was sounded by G. Alan Hickrod, a senior researcher in the field and a professor at Illinois State University.

Those who mount legal challenges to state education-funding systems are the "shock troops'' of the movement for equity between rich and poor schools, Mr. Hickrod contended.

"The current legal actions are going to produce many casualties'' in terms of unsuccessful suits, he said. "But they are important to poor children.''

Mr. Hickrod also urged equity advocates to go beyond just seeking changes in state school-aid formulas, by campaigning to have education declared a fundamental right under state constitutions.

"If you hoist this standard, you'll be amazed at the number of allies that suddenly appear in your camp,'' he said. "Just try claiming that education is not a fundamental right, outside of a narrow legal case.''

"It is necessary to keep up a steady barrage in order to hold the field,'' Mr. Hickrod continued. "Winning this war is the responsibility of those who believe in this cause.''

Thurman Burgess, an 8th-grade student from St. Petersburg, Fla., spent four days recently as the first legislative page chosen by Gov. Lawton Chiles. The Governor had met Thurman at a 1990 campaign stop and invited him to the State Capitol after his schoolwork improved.

While grateful for the invitation and experience, the student left Tallahassee seeing plenty of room for improvement.

To begin with, Thurman suggests that state leaders stop cussing and cutting one another off.

"Ain't nobody paying attention,'' he said. "Everybody is sitting around in their own little world, talking on the telephone.''

Asked whether he thought the legislators were competent, he replied, "They knew what they were doing, but they had a strange way of showing it.''

But even if the process is confused, Thurman said he was impressed by the leaders' ability to wield a gavel.

"That Speaker, he really rules the town,'' he said. "You can be talking about something and then, all of a sudden, 'Whack!' and he'll cut you off.''
--H.D. & L.H.

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