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Mass. Lawmakers Override Vetoes To Boost School Aid

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Brushing aside Gov. William F. Weld's argument that new education money should await passage of a reform bill, Massachusetts lawmakers last week easily overrode vetoes of a total of $185 million in additional state aid to schools.

Governor Weld had sought to use the vetoes as leverage for his latest education-reform proposal, which calls for a statewide core curriculum and major changes in school labor relations.

But the legislature's Democratic majority and most of Mr. Weld's fellow Republicans contended that the need for more state aid was too urgent to be delayed until a reform bill could be passed. Massachusetts schools have been struggling with severe fiscal problems caused by local funding constraints and an erosion of state aid during the past few years.

"The communities have already built that money into their budgets,'' said Lewis Howe, a spokesman for Senator David H. Locke. "For them to take that away now wouldn't serve the children or the parents or the administrators.''

Mr. Locke, the Senate minority leader, voted to override the two education vetoes. Some Republican legislators apparently were concerned that public frustration with the schools' continuing woes would endanger their re-election prospects this fall.

Although he signed a $14.2-billion budget for fiscal 1993, Governor Weld used his line-item-veto power to withhold $185 million in extra funding for elementary and secondary schools.

The Governor said he was reserving the money until the legislature enacted "genuine reform of the system.''

"These funds should remain in escrow until we have real education reform, at which time I will support their speedy reappropriation,'' he wrote to lawmakers.

So that the $185 million could be available for localities in time for the coming school year, Governor Weld called on the legislature to return during the summer to enact a modified version of a school-reform bill he had proposed.

"The impetus for reform will be lost if we don't act now before the schools reopen in September,'' the Governor said in filing the new version.

A 'Simplified' Plan

Mr. Weld introduced what he called a "simplified version'' of his reform plan in mid-July, after it became apparent that Democratic lawmakers would not accept his comprehensive package.

Mr. Weld had submitted his first version of education reform in early June after talks among his administration, legislators, and the business community broke down. (See Education Week, June 10, 1992.)

Although parties to the negotiations had reached consensus on many of the major issues, they parted company on the level of funding and the mechanism for financing.

Mr. Weld's simplified version has essentially the same components as the comprehensive plan's. It still calls for a statewide core curriculum and for statewide goals, standards, and assessments for students.

The modified version also retains many of the thorny personnel and governance changes, such as abolishing teacher tenure and removing school committees from the hiring and firing process.

Where the new version differs is in the area of funding. It does not address foundation levels or funding mechanisms.

Local-Tax Curb Eyed

Governor Weld said, however, that he remained opposed to tampering with Proposition 2, the state ballot initiative that limits the amount of money generated at the local level. The education community had generally interpreted the Governor's original proposal to include a call for changes in the measure.

"If you accept that you're not going to modify Proposition 2, the state must provide more money,'' said John C. Rennie, the chairman of the Massachusetts Business Alliance.

"The difficulty arose this spring when the Governor said he wouldn't modify and didn't want to spend the money to get around 2,'' recalled Mr. Rennie, who headed the talks for the business community. "What happens then is the schools are underfunded.''

"No money should move forward without reforms,'' Mr. Rennie continued. "But you can't institute new reforms and encumbrances on the system without having new resources to go along with it. You have to have both.''

While the Weld administration has attacked the legislature for not embracing his reform efforts, lawmakers have accused the Governor of playing politics with education.

"Their commitment to really changing the way our schools are run and financed is marginal at best,'' said Tripp Jones, a spokesman for Representative Mark Roosevelt, a co-chairman of the legislature's joint education committee.

"We have absolutely no intention of forgetting about the need for reform,'' said Mr. Jones. "We're also not going to go along with a bill that will permit the Governor to allow the issue to fall off his radar screen either.''

Re-election Concerns

At issue last week before the legislature were Governor Weld's vetoes of two forms of state aid. One provided a total of $85 million through a $100-per-pupil payment to all public schools, while the other called for $100 million for school systems with below-average spending.

The per-pupil aid was approved last week on votes of 148 to 2 in the House and 33 to 1 in the Senate.

The additional $100 million, which will go only to the state's poorer communities, passed over somewhat more opposition, on a 129-to-22 House vote and a 30-to-4 Senate vote.

Mr. Howe said Senator Locke, the minority leader, decided to vote for the overrides because it was doubtful the Governor could persuade the Democrats to return and pass a reform measure before September.

At that point, Mr. Howe noted, funding problems caused by the veto could have made it impossible for schools to offer band practice, football teams, and other services. In the resulting public uproar, Democratic candidates could have had a strong issue to use against the Republicans in the legislative elections in November.

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