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State Journal: Symphony in sync?; Tactical retreat

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At a time when poorer school districts in Alabama are asking parents for $90 donations in order to purchase copier paper, Gov. Guy Hunt this month released $450,000 from the state education budget for the financially strapped Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

Legislators placed the money in the budget as a conditional appropriation, but Mr. Hunt took the "bold step'' of releasing the money at the beginning of the fiscal year, said Mark Walker, the A.S.O.'s executive director.

Mr. Walker said the orchestra lobbied hard to get the money, especially since it did not receive any state help last year.

The money, drawn from the education budget since 1990, supports a rural touring program that educates students about music, he said.

But when schools are struggling to supply toilet paper, such an appropriation sends a message that "those elected are bad out of sync with parents and folks that are interested in quality education,'' said Sen. Mac Parsons.

Responding to constituent complaints, Mr. Parsons has spearheaded a statewide petition drive to persuade the state attorney general to challenge the appropriation in court.

If A.S.O. patrons want to raise money for the orchestra, Mr. Parsons suggested, they could "take their silver and sterling and have a yard sale on the 18th hole of the Birmingham Country Club.''

A coalition of business leaders in Indiana that supports providing vouchers to let parents choose any public or private school has decided to limit its lobbying efforts to public school choice for now.

Project Commit was formed two years ago by the chairmen of such firms as the Lincoln National Corporation, Cummins Engine Company, and Eli Lilly & Company.

In addition to backing choice, the group supports setting school-readiness standards and expanding early-childhood programs, establishing standards and assessments to improve job-readiness skills, and shifting more decisionmaking power to schools.

Although Commit's legislative agenda has twice been rejected by the Indiana legislature, it has been used as a model by business groups in a number of other states.

David Kerr, the coordinator for Commit, said the group is considering proposing legislation in the 1993 session that would mandate only public school choice. Dropping vouchers for now, he said, is a "tactical move'' to gain the acceptance of the legislature.

"That is in no way a reflection of our long-term or overall goals,'' he said. "We're still very supportive of public/private choice.''--M.L. & D.C.

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