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Texas Leaders Work To Salvage Finance Amendment

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Leaders of the Texas legislature were pushing hard late last week to move a stalled school-finance proposal out of the House.

The Senate earlier in the week had approved a constitutional amendment designed to lay the groundwork for a resolution of the state's long-running finance woes. But the plan was heavily amended in the House and, on an initial test of support, fell 14 votes shy of the margin necessary to put a constitutional amendment on the state ballot.

Officials warned last week that pressure was building either to pass the amendment or to abandon the effort until the January session.

"We're working on a variety of fronts to try to round up the remaining votes,'' said Reb Wayne, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Gibson Lewis. "If we don't have 100 by Tuesday, we'd just be beating a dead horse.''

The Senate-passed amendment, backed by Mr. Lewis, Gov. Ann W. Richards, and Lieut. Gov. Bob Bullock, would allow the state to redistribute local revenues from wealthy to poor districts and set an equity standard to which lawmakers would be held.

Like a number of previous school-finance plans that have found general agreement in the Senate, the amendment was pounced upon by House members. Representatives deleted the equity standard in committee and attached 10 amendments before the floor vote, and officials said more changes are inevitable.

Republican lawmakers have urged that the legislature pass a new school-finance plan either in conjunction with or before a constitutional amendment. But Ms. Richards wants to concentrate on passing an amendment, since waiting until the regular session to approve the constitutional change could push the state up against a June deadline ordered by the state supreme court for a new finance plan.

An aide to Sen. Carl A. Parker, the chairman of the Senate education committee, said that if the House passed an amendment, he would push hard in a joint conference committee to have the equity standard restored. That provision would require the state to equalize its allocations to all but the wealthiest 5 percent of districts.

While some opponents fear that such a provision might force undesirable choices in considering a finance bill, Mr. Parker has expressed concern that without it the law would be more prone to court challenges.

$642 Million in Savings Eyed

Meanwhile, state officials fended off criticism from local school officials by releasing an audit of 55 districts that showed potential for stretching funds further.

Many local officials have complained about the lack of new state funds in the leadership's finance plan. But the report by from the state auditor's office contended that the 55 districts could save $642 million through cost controls, better management, and consolidation.

State leaders were quick to jump on the anti-waste bandwagon, suggesting that the audits continue in an effort to identify savings for all of the more than 1,000 districts in the state.

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